|They lost the game, but they won the moonwalking contest.|
So I started this article with a rant about the pitch that was so long, I've cut it into a separate article to post later.
To the game. the North and South stands were packed, the East and West stands - at double the ticket price - were not. Nonetheless the 'n-zone' group were bigger than ever and actually fed off the Ultras opposite them, creating an excellent atmosphere. I'm sure it gave the players a boost.
Only one surprise in the starting line up; Kawin (GK), Piyachart (LB), Panupong (CB), Nattaporn (Capt, CB), Kaewprom (RB), Datsakorn (MD), Pitchipong (MD), Ammorn (MD), Siaka (AM), Christian (FW), Teerasil (ST).
Ammorn being the surprise inclusion. You may notice I've stopped discussing Kaewprom so much. That's because the verdict is in: he's a fine right back. When I was critical of him, he was still adjusting to his new role. Now he is well-positioned, knows when to distribute the ball and is well-timed in his challenges. Good job, Kaewprom.
Muangthong started quickly and it became obvious that while Al-Itthiad may be a good side, they were looking distinctly vulnerable. Their keeper seemed to have a real problem with crosses and I was amazed how may times he seemed to panic and appear indecisive about coming off his line. That rubbed off on his defenders and MTU created plenty of chances from it.
Within ten minutes we were ahead when a short cross from someone (Datsakorn?) baffled the goalie again and Dagno slotted home. It really was hard to believe; here we were in the semi-finals of a tournament few people thought we'd even get past the first round in and we were making light work of the opposition.
It was all uphill from there, though. I had hoped we would fly at these guys because we have to budget for conceding goals in the away leg but, in hindsight, perhaps the early goal worked against us. The attacks continued but we wasted several good chances.
The second half was a similar story. Ammorn lost a particularly good opportunity by taking several touches and trying to beat two men when a simple tap would surely have put us two goals to the good. Some over-hit free kicks and a spot of bad luck also contributed to the scoreline. Al-Itthiad worked hard and put in some powerful long range efforts but as ever, Kawin was equal to it.
The celebrations at full time were moderate. There is no doubting we played well today and I'm sure every MTU fan is proud of the boys and their effort. In fact, both teams deserve credit for playing good football on a very dodgy turf.
However, the underlying fear is that those missed chances may come back to haunt us. Al-Itthiad were there for the taking in this game, that won't be the case in front of a large 30,000+ crowd of noisy Syrian fans in a desert climate. I was hoping we could build a strong lead then play a very firm defensive game for the second leg. Instead, I think we'll now have to come out attacking. We've proven our skill, now we need to prove our nerve once more.
Man of the match - Kawin Thamastchanan, for ensuring the task ahead was not even stiffer.
Photo credit: unknown (please inform)