Thursday 07 November 2019, 01:41

Youthful exuberance has Thailand's War Elephants on the march

  • Thailand moved five places up in October’s World Ranking

  • War Elephants remain undefeated in Qatar 2022 qualifying

  • Young talents have starred during early stages of the qualifying campaign

Thailand, under new boss Akira Nishino, have raised quite a few eyebrows in Asia's qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ through their fine displays. Two wins and a draw were the surprising outcomes so far which moved the War Elephants to the top of a challenging group. In the process, despite being held to a goalless draw by Vietnam in the opener, they bounced back to win 3-0 in style against hosts Indonesia before going on to stun United Arab Emirates 2-1 at home.

The reward for their brilliant performances is a five-place leap to 109 in October's FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, becoming Asia's joint best movers of the month alongside Qatar and Iraq. By doing so, Thailand have continued an upward trajectory in the global pecking order since 2014.

Thailand's results in Asia's qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar: Thailand 0-0 Vietnam Indonesia 0-3 Thailand Thailand 2-1 United Arab Emirates

Youthful exuberance With the entire team excelling, it was their younger players who drew the most attention through some eye-catching performances. Twenty-one-year-old attacker Supachok Sarachat pulled off heroics against Indonesia, scoring twice and earning a penalty to help his side to three points. And as if not to be outdone, 20-year-old midfielder Ekanit Panya set up one and scored another as Thailand sank formidable UAE in the last outing.

"I was very happy for what I did for my team [against the UAE]," Panya told reflecting on the memorable win. "We grabbed three crucial points and I was very excited. But of course, all the credit should go to all my team-mates who provide support for each other and that is why we can deliver good results and do our fans proud."

Coach Nishino also paid tribute to the young players after the Indonesia match - his first victory in a competitive match in charge of Thailand. "All our young players such as Supachok (Sarachat), Ekanit (Panya) and Supachai (Jaided) played very well," he said. "Supachok was under a lot of pressure in the first game against Vietnam. But today he kept on fighting and worked very hard."

If the victory over Indonesia put Thailand's campaign back on track, then the triumph against UAE gave Nishino realistic hopes of guiding his side through. "From this game against the UAE, we have learnt new things which will help in our next match [against Malaysia on 14 November]," said Nishino, who coached his native Japan during a successful Russia 2018 campaign. "We have to show that Thailand football can compete against the best [of Asia].

“We did well against the UAE because we played with more strength than they did from the start. We have shown today that teamwork is very important and that it cannot just be about individual players."

It is perhaps too long that Thailand have waited to make a new breakthrough. After reaching their all-time high of 43 in September 1998 on the global ladder, Thailand began a 16-year downward spiral which ended at 165 in October 2014 - their lowest ranking. However they have since enjoyed consistent ascendancy with the current placing being the highest of the past five years. And boosted by their youngsters’ fine showings, more can be expected should the team maintain their current form.

Thailand in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: Average placing since the launch of the World Ranking: 98 Most recent ranking: 109 (October 2019) Lowest ranking: 165 (October 2014) Highest ranking: 43 (September 1998)

The draw for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2