SEA Games: Thailand football heroes ice the cake

SEA Games: Thailand football heroes ice the cake
Thai footballers celebrate with their fans after scoring the first goal against Myanmar during the men's final match at the 28th SEA Games in Singapore last night. Left: Striker Chananan Pombubpha is jubilant after netting the second goal for Thailand,

Thailand reclaimed the mantle of regional football kings after clinching a record-extending 15th SEA Games title with a deserved 3-0 victory over Myanmar last night.

It was the third time Thailand had defeated Myanmar in the men's football final, following victories at the 1993 and 2007 Games, and the win put the icing on yet another successful showing, with the Kingdom set to retain the overall title.

The country's standing atop the region's footballing hierarchy was questioned after the Thai side plunged into a slump that began with their ignominious exit at the group stage at the 2009 SEA Games in Laos.

The recruitment of foreign coaches including former England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson failed to bring a turnaround in fortunes. It took the arrival of former national striker Kiatisak Senamuang two years ago to finally spark a renaissance.

The first real sign of an upturn came when Kiatisak steered the country to its first SEA Games trophy in six years, in Myanmar two years ago. That was followed by a triumph at last year's Asean Championship, which put the country level with Singapore as the most successful nation in the championship, with four titles.

A schedule clash between the World Cup qualifiers and the regional multi-sport event prompted Kiatisak to assign his assistant and fellow former national player Choktawee Promrat to oversee the Thai team's SEA Games title defence in Singapore.

The 40-year-old former defender let no one down, neither his boss nor the country, engineering a perfect run en route to the final which saw sparkling performances that lit up the tournament and earned plenty of plaudits.

By a quirk of fate, the Thai team faced a repeat of the 1993 final, which they won 4-3 against Myanmar thanks to Kiatisak's dramatic winner to clinch the gold medal the last time the biennial tournament was held in Singapore, in 1993.

The Thais, who had plundered 21 goals with only one conceded on the way to the title showdown at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium, needed no last-minute intervention this time around, as they quickly took control of the match in front of a raucous crowd.

Slick-passing play reminiscent of Spanish giants Barcelona's famous "tiki-taka" football was on full display against the tournament's surprise package, Myanmar, who finished top of their group before overcoming more fancied rivals Vietnam in the semi-finals.

The Thais had two gilt-edged chances in the first half, but Thitiphan Puangjan and Chanathip Songkrasin were both foiled by the Myanmar keeper.

But they finally made their pressure tell after the break with goals from Tanaboon Kesarat and Chananan Pombubpha and substitute Pinyo Inpinit.

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