The long search is over for Thailand football

Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang joking with his players during a break in training at Bishan Stadium. They will be playing against Singapore during the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup on 23 November 2014 at the Singapore Sports Hub.

Thailand's triumph at the 2014 ASEAN Football Championship on Saturday night is the latest and most compelling evidence underlining the fact that former national striker Kiatisak Senamuang is the man the country has long searched for to bring back the glory days to Thai football.

Few could have predicted when Thailand last won the region's showpiece tournament in 2002 - its third title in the first four times the biennial event was held - that the country would have to wait more than a decade to taste success again.

Whether that was the result of poor management at the Thai FA or the failure to replenish the squad with a new generation of players, it was a long barren run for a country once widely regarded as the undisputed top team in Southeast Asia. And it led to coincided with Thailand plummeting down the Fifa rankings.

Since the country's early dominance in the Championship, which was achieved under the guidance of former England striker Peter Withe, who twice led Thailand to the title (in 2000 and 2002), the Thai FA has drafted in both local and foreign managers in an attempt to revive the Thai team's fortunes.

However, most of those men, including former Sunderland manager Peter Reid and former England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson, had little success when in charge of the national side. Hype surrounding their appointments proved to be just misplaced optimism.

It was the same case with Kiatisak's predecessor, veteran German Winfried Schaefer, whose reign began promisingly before it came to a disappointing end, with a poor qualifying campaign for next month's Asian Cup in Australia.

In the wake of Schaefer's exit, the Football Association of Thailand brought in Kiatisak to hold the fort while looking for a suitable candidate to replace the experienced German. However, the 41-year-old made a big splash in his first game in charge of the team by guiding them to a shock 5-1 friendly win in China in June.

The ex-striker was then assigned to lead the under-23 side at the Myanmar-hosted SEA Games at the end of last year and did not disappoint at his first international tournament as a coach, steering Thailand to its first gold medal in the regional sporting event in six years.

Kiatisak then pressed a strong case for a permanent job by helping the Thai side equal its best Asian Games result with fourth spot in the under-23 competition in Incheon, South Korea earlier this year. With such remarkable results, the FAT decided to give him the full-time job, with his immediate task to help the country reclaim the elusive Championship trophy.

Despite his outstanding coaching record at under-23 level, doubts remained over Kiatisak's ability to step up to coach the senior team in a competition that has become much more competitive in the years after Thailand's early dominance.

He raised eyebrows when he preferred to keep faith with most of the young players who have worked with him since the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar while leaving some established names, such as Muangthong United midfielder Datsakorn Thonglao out of the Championship squad.

Kiatisak's youthful side is unrecognisable from the under-achieving teams of recent years as they produced an attractive brand of quick-passing football that captured the imagination of the fans during their sparkling unbeaten run to the final against Malaysia.

Aside from the youthful exuberance, Kiatisak's men showed commendable resilience as well, most notably in the second-leg of the final in Kuala Lumpur, where they flirted with letting the title slip through their fingers.

Despite holding a 2-0 first-leg advantage, the Thais found themselves 3-0 behind with half an hour remaining at the intimidating Bukit Jalil stadium. But they pulled off an astonishing comeback to score two late goals to seal a heart-pounding 4-3 aggregate win which ensured their long wait for the title had come to an end.

Thailand's fourth title puts it level with Singapore as the most successful nations in the event and Kiatisak, who became the first person to win as both a coach and player, was full of praise for his team.

"We worked for two years for this moment," he said. "I'm relieved and delighted. "Coach and players, we have different duties to perform. We face different kinds of pressure.

"This group of players is even better than the team I played for. They have everything [needed] to achieve more success."