THAILAND - Thailand's under-23 side got their SEA Games campaign off to a winning start, beating unheralded Timor Leste 3-1 in their opening Group B match in Yangon Saturday.
The Thai side, the most successful team in the event's history with eight gold medals, were on a mission to restore their reputation after exiting in the group stages in the previous two editions.
With 2011 finalists Indonesia waiting next in line on Thursday, the Thais could ill-afford a slip-up against their unfancied opponents who lie at 189th spot in the world rankings.
The last time the two met in the competition four years ago in Laos, the Thais scored a thumping 9-0 victory. Given that more than half of the current Timor side were naturalised players, a similar feat was unlikely to happen.
The Thai side, whose winning streak came to the end in Laos in 2009, opened the scoring inside two minutes. Forward Adisak Kraisorn burst into the left side of the penalty area and squared the ball for onrushing Thitiphan Puangjan to stab home into the unguarded net.
Thailand had to wait more than half an hour before they could double the advantage. Theerathon Bunmathan linked up with Kroekrit Thawikan down the left flank before the latter delivered a precise cross for Pokklaw Anan to fire home a powerful first time volley from close range.
Well aware that goal difference could be decisive when it comes to deciding which team qualifies for the last four from the group that also includes hosts Myanmar and Cambodia, the Thais continued to press for more goals in the second half.
Theerathon had a hand in the third goal when the Buriram United left back picked out unmarked Atit Daosawang, who made no mistake from eight yards out shortly after the restart.
After that, Timor Leste, began to make their presence felt by carving out several opportunities, with striker Oliveira Gois firing their best chance wastefully wide with time and space to pick his spot inside the box.
Nevertheless, Timor did claw a goal back in the 71st minute through substitute Da Fonseca's effort. Stung by a goal, the Thais upped the tempo but they were unable to find another goal and had to settle for a win by a two-goal margin.