All Square in Asian Cup Opener

As I have been out here a few times before, I am no longer surprised by the hit of heat and humidity as I step off the plane at Bangkok’s new airport. It is the rainy season in Thailand – but that normally just means a couple of hours of heavy rain a day, often around sunset. On my first day, it rained almost continuously through the day, although it did get better in the evening. It felt a bit like a warm version of England.

Saturday started bright and sunny, though, and it looked like a good day for the start of the Asian Cup. Looks can be deceptive – about three hours before kick off, the heavens opened, and torrential rain flooded the pitch. The opening ceremony was restricted to paddling around the running track – it may the use of a Thai ceremonial boat as part of the celebration look inspired.

Match details

Saturday 7th July 2007 k.o. 7.35 p.m. at Rajamangala Stadium
Thailand 1 (1) Iraq 1 (1)

Thailand (4-1-3-2) Kosin Hathairattanakool; Suree Sukha, Niweat Siriwong, Jetsada Jitsawad, Nataporn Phanrit; Nirut Surasiang; Tawan Sripan, Datsakorn Thonglao, Thersdak Chaiman; Kiatisuk Senamuang, Sutee Suksomkit – Suchao Nutnam (for Chaiman:71), Teeratep Winothai (for Surasiang, 71), Teerasil Dangda (for SUksomsit, 86)

Iraq (4-2-3-1) Noor Sabri Hassan; Haider Abdel Amir Hussain, Ali Rehema, Jassim Al Hamd, Basem Gatea; Haitham Tahir, Nashat Ali ; Mahdi Ajeel, Salih Sideer Salih, Hawar Mulla Mohamed Taher; Younis Mahmoud Khalef – Qusai Aboudy (for Salih, 66), Kurrar Muhamed (for Ali Nashat, 90)

Thailand, playing 4-1-3-2. Surasiang is playing just in front of the back four
Iraq are in 4-2-3-1 with two players in front of the back four, and the one front player reliant on support coming from midfield

Referee – Kwon Jong Chul from Korea.

6 mins 1-0 Suksomkit (penalty) – comfortably converted even if one wonders how the referee came to define mild contact in the area as a push on Kiatisuk by Ali Rehema

Iraq set about recovering from the set back quickly, with Salih having a long range shot saved, and Jassim then misplacing his far post header from the resulting corner. While Khalef was being made to operate along up front, support was quick in getting to him, with Salih forcing a reaction save from the Thai keeper.

The crowd in the 65,000 capacity stadium was disappointing, probably less than 20% of the capacity. AT least from where I was sitting, they were making a lot of noise to celebrate their rather fortuitous lead – this appeared to be from groups of young people given thunder clappers. They are almost all dressed in yellow T-shirts, supposedly the new colour of the national team (following a sponsorship from Nike to put them in ‘Brazil’ kits). The stadium is an elliptical bowl which rises opposite the half way line. Behind the goals, the second tier has just a few rows of seats, and these then give way to the scoreboard – while at the high point, just offset from the half way line having a third tier rising high into the night.

32 mins 1-1 Khalef, Salih lifted a free kick from the right wing into the area, and Khalef got above the Thai defenders to nod the ball on, with the home goalkeeper caught off his line. With the Iraqis now dominant, Thailand were looking to the break, and Suksomit forced a good save from Noor Sabri in the 37th minute.

Iraq started the second half as the finished the first – in an attacking mood – but Thailand started to push their way back into the game after about 10 minutes. A long free kick by Ali Nashat may have worried the home side, but the goalkeeper, Kosin – who has been Thailand’s most impressive player (apart from when they conceded the goal), collects easily – from a similar distance (in open play) Noor Sabri does not look so confident, and can only parry Datsakorn Thongloa’s shot. No one is close to the rebound.

The first substitution sees Salih, less impressive since the break, replaced by Quasay Aboudi). The rain is continuous, but the game is very much alive, with chances being created at both ends. With two substitutions by Thailand, there is no doubt that Iraq have lost their edge, but the game now seems to likely to end all square. A great ball by Phanrit set Suksomkit free on the right, the chance was missed when he delayed crossing the ball, waiting for other players to catch up. This was Suksomkit’s last action, as he was replaced by Dangda before the corner (actually a string of 3 corners) which forced the Iraqi defence onto the backfoot. Thailand now seemed desperate to try and force a result in the last five minutes. The Iraq team seemed happy to come away with a draw, delaying a substitution into injury time, when the affect of killing time would be greater (a practise that always works – having already signalled two minutes injury time, not a second was added for the substitution).

On a wet evening, Iraq will be happy to have come away without defeat; Thailand will also be happy in that they managed to finish the first half level, despite not competing and then gave the Iraq side a game after the break. The referee probably gets full marks from the AFC for a result that should boost the crowd in the next Thailand game

After the match, the Thai coach praised the way his team improved in the second half, and adapted to the conditions better. About the penalty, he said “football is football” and suggested that the challenge in question belonged on the rugby field. Jorvan Viera, the Iraq coach said simply “no comment”, and also refused to be drawn on his defensive formation (indeed he refused to call it 4-5-1), just saying that against a fast team like Thailand, in difficult conditions, he was forced to hold players back. The AFC blamed the low turnout on the weather, and pointed out that just over 35,000 tickets had been sold in advance, and in better weather they may have expected 10,000 more to pay on the day.

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