Thursday, 12 January 2012

Muangthong United 0 Buriram PEA 0 - FA Cup final report and review

Why we love Thai football (© mooinblack)

MOO_8406The line up was notable for its absentees. Kawin (GK), Kayem (DF), Ali (DF), Nattaporn (Capt, DF), Pitchipong (MD), Siaka (MD), Datsakorn (MD), Buntao (MD), Arromsowa (AM), Fowler (FW), Teerasil (ST). That line-up should indicate the gameplan: three at the back, pack the midfield.

Missing were Panupong (injured hip muscle) and Christian (ankle still injured?). In that wonderful thing we call hindsight, Christian's absence may just have been the deciding factor in this contest.

There's never been more than one goal's difference in any MTU V PEA encounter and, amazingly, we have never scored past them. None of that would change tonight and the game was very typical of Thai football in both its positives and negatives. Moments of skill and breakaway football were matched in frequency by players of both teams throwing themselves on the turf and rolling in agony before jumping to their feet when they get the free kick or yellow card for the opponent they wanted. Sad.

MOO_9074Teerasil, Pornsai (sub) and Fowler each came agonisingly close for the Quilins over the course of the two hour battle while Buriram hit a rut of missed chances that were staggering even by Thai football standards. But the bulk of the play went Buriram's way because our attempt to pack the midfield backfired slightly. PEA's two Franks exploited the space in our final third with their pace and diagonal movement. (Ironically, it reminded of the days when Yaya, Kone and Siaka terrorised defences in the same way.) Although Ali and Kayem matched the two Franks for speed, it allowed PEA's midfield too much opportunity to storm down the middle of our defence and test Kawin.

Yet we held on, thanks in no small part to Kawin (more on him later) and the game went to extra time. It looked to be heading for penalties - probably our best chance - when Buriram scored via the smaller Frank, and what an excellent goal it was. Sadly, within two minutes of Frank hitting the net, no less than three Buriram players were rolling in the floor in agony, only to recover, as if by magic, shortly after. Thai football has come so far in two years, why is this behaviour allowed to hold it back? We piled forward but the sense of panic mixed with fatigue - borne of 240 minutes of football in four days - made the goal unlikely and it never came.

So it came to pass that for the second year in a row we lost the TFA Cup final deep in extra time. Credit to Buriram who were the better team. In Matt's podcast he mentioned new standards have been set.

In my preview I stated this match might be symbolic of the growing dominance of the two Thai giants. I feel that's been vindicated. PEA's dominance of the season could be wrapped up with a treble win in two weeks, yet every time they slug it out with MTU goals are rare, late and followed by stalling. These two teams are clearly so closely matched that a couple of key signings (or a return of Christian) for Muangthong and the additional ACL fixture load for PEA could tilt the balance next season. As MTU fans know well, winning the trophies is the comparatively easy part. But for now, PEA have earned the double and only Thai Port - with their potentially demoralised squad owed about 3 months of salary - stand between them and a historic treble.

It would be nice to think that we could now sit back, take stock and learn from our mistakes. But thanks to the utter imbeciles at the TFA we still have two meaningless (for us) fixtures to play before we can afford ourselves the luxury of preparing for the, ahem, 2012 season. Moreover, one of those fixtures is against struggling Sriracha, obliging us to play a full strength side.

Man of the Match
Applaud this man
Three contenders here but anyone who saw the extra time period will surely know the name I'm about to type; Kawin Thamasatchanan was an absolute colossus tonight and was the only reason we lost by one goal instead of five or six. It wasn't just about saves either, this young goalie commands his defence like a seasoned veteran and has the heart, professionalism and motivation to go as far he wants in this sport. If anyone doubted me when I said this was Asia's best goalie, do they still doubt me now?

I should also mention two other names. First, Diarra Ali who was presumably the late replacement for Panupong. I was worried about the still fairly raw defender marking either of PEA's Franks but he did very well and even under constant pressure he never gave away a penalty or had any 'red mist' moments as young and excited defenders so often do.

Secondly, Robbie Fowler. I've been critical of him recently, so it's only fair I mention his work rate and passion in this game. Robbie lasted the entire 120 minutes and showed his quality with some excellent flick-ons and movement that displayed his rich experience. It was also encouraging to see him call out the time-wasting and other nonsense when it went on. If more players did this, it wouldn't be so damn easy to get away with. I'd still rather Robbie retired from playing at the end of this season (if it ever comes!) and I'm still far from sure about his management credentials, but he gave it 101% in this clash .

And so the de-facto end of this season is here and we finish on a bitter note.
It hurts like hell but what's done is done. Now it's time to look ahead. Let's get the pointless games done, let's enjoy the lighter fixture load next season. Let's learn from our mistakes by giving Robbie a chance (and hope he wants and takes it) to use his contacts, splash the cash, sign two or three top class players to compliment the brilliant players we have already like Kawin, Datsakorn, Siaka, Teerasil and Panupong. Let's continue to bring up fantastic youngsters like Kayem, Ali and Arthit, let's have the fans put all the "glory hunting" BS in the bin by turning up in force for every game after a trophy-less season. Let's watch the building for the biggest and best stadium in Thailand start to take hold. Most of all, let's get two-time TPL champions MTU back to the top where we belong.

"By the way, your salary is win-related"

Photo credits: MTU N-Zone, mooinblack (Jirawat Srikong),

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