Winning SEA Games title no longer a certainty for Thailand

Winning SEA Games title no longer a certainty for Thailand

THAILAND - Distracted by off the field matters for weeks, Thai football fans can now turn their attention to action on the pitch as the country bids to reclaim the SEA Games title in Myanmar.

With many fans growing tired of hearing what seemed an endless controversy related to the Thai FA presidential election, the biennial tournament, which is held for the first time in Myanmar since the event was rebranded as Southeast Asian Games, became a cue to shift the focus back on the field.

People are more curious to know whether the national under-23 side can regain the SEA Games title that has eluded them since 2007 than when Worawi Makudi could eventually assume his role as the Thai FA boss after winning the election in mid-October. The Sports Authority of Thailand has not approved Worawi's victory yet following allegations of wrongdoings in the poll.

For now, all eyes will be on coach Kiatisak "Zico" Senamuang's side, though. Although the SEA Games competition will officially get underway on Wednesday, football is one of the sports where the competition has already begun.

Long gone are the days when the Thai side could stroll to the title in the sporting event formerly known as the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games. After winning the gold medal for eight consecutive times, the Thais were sent crashing down to earth in Laos four years ago when they were dumped out in the group stage.

The Thai team had barely fared better in the previous edition in Indonesia where they again suffered a premature exit. The Games debacle plunged the country into a long barren spell since their triumph in the 24th SEA Games in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Though still regarded as one of the title favourites, Thailand have lost the aura of invincibility they once enjoyed. And, they can no longer consider themselves the leading nation in the region after slumping to a lowly 142nd place in the latest world rankings table, two spots below hosts Myanmar while the Philippines (133rd) are the region's top-ranked nation.

Surely, the Thais have a chance to win glory in Myanmar but one thing is certain - it could be a bumpy road this time rather than the plain sailing as in the past.

The immediate task is to claim one of two qualifying spots on offer in the group. To achieve that, they need to outwit their two main Group B rivals, hosts Myanmar and 2011 finalists Indonesia.

If Kiatisak's side do manage to make it through the group stage, a challenging test awaits them in the semi-finals where they could face one of three strong opponents: Malaysia, who won the title in the previous two editions, Vietnam, or Singapore. So, a SEA Games triumph is no longer a foregone conclusion for the Thais.

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