Thoughts on Thailand (1st Leg)
The match report previously posted was my amalgamation of kooora forum users thoughts and three different match reports I read. Thanks to a very generous Thai YouTuber (shout out to TungstenPalm) I was able to watch the match in full. If you are interested in doing the same the match has been posted in 7 parts on our YouTube page.
After watching that match I have to congratulate the team on a very hard fought game in tough conditions. Traveling to Southeast Asia from the Middle East is a very long and daunting trip, I took a flight to Malaysia from Bahrain a couple of years ago and I was zonked out during my first couple of days. It's also worth noting that although the Thais aren't a household name in football they are a very capable side with money flowing through every tier of their football program (I am extremely jealous of their Nike sponsorship. We stepped out in a very plain White /Black/White combination provided by Peak with oversized jerseys for nearly every single one of our players). This team was a quarterfinalist at the Asian Games. The senior team has been at every single Asian Cup since 1992 but missed out on this year's addition on the last day of qualifying to Jordan.
Tactically, I thought The Dinosaur was right on the money. In order to have any hope of progressing we needed to give ourselves a chance to decide the tie in Palestine. The game started with a very nervy first 5 minutes for Palestine but they soon settled and had their best chance of the match in the 10th minute when Khaled Salem (better known as Khaled Jamal to Merkaz Tulkarem followers) found Ali El-Khatib in the box with a perfect cross. Unfortunately, El-Khatib flashed his effort just wide of the post.
This wasn't a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination. Thailand's players are better than ours and you can tell that this team is more accustomed to each other than we are. But when you're the underdog you have to succeed at one thing: Make good teams play badly. Thailand's game is all about quick movement, they love to exploit space and have some serious speed in attack. The Dinosaur had the team defend in a shell and there were moments where Thailand was passing the ball in its own half with no ideas on how to attack the crowd of players in front of them. Cynics roll their eyes at these sort of bunker ball tactics but I have to say bunker ball is an art form. It is not ideal but it can be used to devastating effect or it can be turned against you to equal effect. Just look at Korea DPR's first two games of the World Cup. They were suited to playing Dunga's Brazil but not Quieroz's Portugal.
Thailand's only goal of the match came as a result of a rare swift move. A quick throw in saw an attacker beat the offsides trap and cut the ball back into the box. Palestine's defenders were caught ball watching instead of man marking and were punished. But throughout the rest of the game they did well, Thailand was reduced to a string of half chances. When they had an opportunity they were either let down by their atrocious finishing (Thai forwards wasted two free headers) or by Toufic Ali's outstanding goalkeeping.
Despite Toufic Ali's good performance there were some concerns: Captain Mustafa Abu Kweik took most the goal kicks (perhaps due to injury?) which is the first time I've seen this happen at this level. There is a definite potential but this is an extremely raw player who Wadi Al-Nes fans have criticized as being too nervy.
Besides the good goalkeeping performance there are other players who merit mentioning. I won't go so far as to blast any of the players performances tonight but I will say that there were some standouts. Malmö FF starlet Hicham Ali is the real deal he was quiet at times but that is only because he tracked back to help shore up the defence. He essentially played as a left-back and right back while out on the wings. He hassled the Thai defence, won the ball back, put in great crosses in to the box, and made excellent runs off the ball. I don't have the statistics but I think it is fair to say that he ran more than any other player on the pitch. If I were Bezaz I'd make sure to include him in the Challenge Cup squad and plug him in as a left-back (preferably in a 5-3-2 system) he'd be an upgrade over Ahmed Harbi and even Roberto Bishara who really is a centreback.
Ali El-Khatib also put in a good performance on the wing, he will be ruing his missed chance but he did more than enough to offset Palestine's lack of midfield presence during this game. The other player worth a mention is Khaled Salem who did all what he was asked of up front. It was obvious that he wasn't used to this task but he held up the ball well, won countless headers, and pressured defenders into giveaways. When Khaled had the ball he often elected to take a poor shot instead of waiting for help which is the only criticism that I can levy against him.
For the return leg in Palestine we don't have to completely overhaul our strategy. Thailand is very vulnerable on the counter, they aren't going to use 70% possession to their advantage. The aim should be to get one goal and prolong the game until the Thais break down (everybody in Palestine needs to go to the game and SCREAM for 90 minutes). I would not advocate a repeat of the 4-5-1. I can't say that the extra man in midfield helped us mostly because we never played through midfield. Khaled Salem needs help up top to be effective. A 4-4-2 with two withdrawn midfielders, an extra forward dropping off to create an additional point of attack, along with a little luck could see Palestine progress. It is also important to note (as pointed out by Paul in an earlier comments section) that Thailand struggles on its trips to the Middle East. So it's all to play for come March 9th.