Sunday, 11 April 2010
Thai Port 1 Muangthong United 4
Yes indeed, in the aftermath of the nightmarish violence of Saturday night, the game between MTU and Thai Port went ahead. Were the TFA right to allow the game? I'll come back to that.
The atmosphere in Bangkok was strange and hard to describe. I've never been to Pyongyang, but I imagine it was similar to Bangkok today. A massive city with few people in it and those that are go about their business quietly. With the Sky Train closed and tourists rocked by the violence on Khao San, the city lacked its usual feel.
Adding to the surreal feeling was the lack of colours. Normally for any Muangthong game - either home or away - there are a whole bunch of fans around en-route. Today I saw none before I reached the stadium. Unbeknown to me at the time, the Ultras had been asked not to attend the game and most that did attend had, like myself, kept their red shirts hidden for obvious reasons.
Thai Port fans did attend this game in a fairly large number. None of them wore team colours.
News reaches me before kick off that Mika and Wisarut have left MTU to join Customs and Police United respectively. Mika was a popular figure despite not getting a lot of first team action. Wisarut was a classy player whom I will always remember for his strike against Samut Songkhram last year. Good luck to them both.
OK to the game. Some changes were afoot in the starting eleven for MTU: Kawin, Pakasit, Piyachart, Nattaporn (Captain), Panupong, Siako, Datsakorn, Amorn, Yaya, Teerasil and Christian.
(Yes sorry I mix first and surnames when referring to players. The full squad list is here if you ever need to check.)
After just four minutes, disaster strikes. One of our centre backs is easily fooled yet again by a simple diagonal run from a forward. It leaves Ekkachai Sumrei (isn't that a Sky Train station?) with a simple side foot goal. 0 - 1 .
But it gets worse. Ekkachai makes no contact with Kawin but the goalie is down and he isn't faking it. The physios spend a good five minutes trying to help him but he looks punch drunk. Off goes Kawin and on comes Thanongsak Phanphiphat. Less than five minutes in, we're a goal down and our best player down in the game of the season I want to win more than any other.
A cheer goes up from the Thai Port fans while Kawin is down. I'm not sure what happened but it aggravated our fans and for a moment the tension rose. You could sense the fear by the way the police officers all shuffled off to hide in various places.
For the next twenty minutes or so we look weak and second best. Some sloppy passes go astray from our midfield and Datsakorn looks to be playing everything sideways. Thai Port players are already beginning to waste time. On one occasion, a player actually stops to pull up his socks while he walks over to take a corner. Number ten for Thai Port, Sarayoot Chaikamdee is coming in for a lot of stick from away fans.
Muangthong finally start to mount a few attacks down the left engineered mainly by Piyachart but nothing comes of them. But a few minutes before half time, Datsakorn - who until now had done nothing impressive - pulled off an excellent strike from outside the box to equalise and send the players in happy at half time.
In the second half, Sylla replaces Amorn who had a very quiet game. Yaya starts to see more of the ball and with Thai Port desperate to collect more points from a 'home' game, they push forward. The space allows MTU to bring the ball down both wings more often and Christian Kouakou starts to become far more involved in the match. Soon after, Siaka scores after some great set up play by Christian. It's 2 - 1 to MTU.
The next few minutes were tense as Port pushed forward to test our reserve goalie but he managed well and both Nattaporn and Panupong made some simple but crucial interventions. Jetsada faces competition for his spot and that can only be good for the squad.
On 82 minutes, Zaizen - replacing Yaya - played a smart through ball to Teerasil. Showing his experience, Teerasil did not snap at the through ball but instead held it up, drew defenders to him and sure enough forced them to give away a penalty. It was a clear cut and deserved. Siaka stepped up and though the goalie dove the right way he could not stop it. 3-1. Game over?
The ref added six minutes of time. Just enough or us to break through and see some excellent team play between the Africans to allow a smart finish for Christian n Ekouakou. 4 - 1. Now it really is over.
At the end of the game, both teams saluted the opposing fans. The Port fans - though they should not have been there - behaved impeccably. Peaceful fans and a 4 - 1 win. The ghost of last time was really laid to rest. I left the stadium a happy man.
Should we have played? Yes, I support the TFA for allowing this match to go ahead. Of course, in the big scheme of things it was insignificant, compared to the tragic deaths the day before. But football is important, it crosses boundaries of politics, nations, race, culture and everything else. Where there's football being played, there's hope.
The fans who attended the game behaved sensibly and made decisions concerning their own safety and beahviour, rather than have other authorities decide it for them. It could have gone wrong but it didn't. Let's hope lessons are learned from that, not just in football but in Thai society as a whole.
Man of the match:
I'm not taking the easy choice just because of his goal. Matt and I had already decided before his second goal that Christian Ekouakou was MOM. He worked hard, tracked back and took his two goals nicely.