Semi-final preview: Thailand not fazed ahead of Australia showdown
Amman: Thailand boss Nuengrutai Srathongivan has vowed that her side will throw everything at Australia in their AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2018 semi-final, despite having lost star forward Suchawadee Nildhamrong for the remainder of the tournament.
Nuengrutai confirmed Nildhamrong's departure from the squad, but issued a reminder that her side’s impressive performances thus far were not solely down to the 21-year-old’s influence.
“Suchawadee is not only an important footballer, but she is also a university student and we emphasise that as well,” she said, “that’s why we left her to go back to the US and let her finish her final exams so she will be able to join us once again next year.
“Our progress in this tournament is not just about her. Even though we’ve reached our goal of making the semi-finals, we want to improve ourselves and test ourselves against the benchmark to get better and to help prepare ourselves for a tough (World Cup) tournament next year.”
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Thailand’s last two performances have produced nine goals in goals in excellent wins over Jordan and the Philippines, but Nuengrutai is acutely aware of the more advanced threat posed by the world’s sixth-ranked team.
“The opponents in the group stage, compared to the opponent we will face tomorrow, were dramatically different,” said the experienced boss.
“The teams we were playing in the group stage were ranked quite closely to us, but (Australia) can be considered one of the best teams in Asia at the moment, so it’s going to be a good opportunity for us to define our strategy and how to handle them.”
The news of Suchawadee’s departure comes as a blow to Thailand’s hopes of reaching the final, but Australian head coach Alen Stajcic insisted his side will take nothing for granted, despite enjoying a comprehensive 5-0 win against the Chaba Kaew in Perth just three weeks ago.
“I watched the last two games that Thailand played live, and their attacking intent was very good and they looked very good on the counter attack,” said the Australian tactician.
“We know they’re a very good technical team and we know what their strengths are. We’re not underestimating anyone’s ability and certainly not being complacent.
“Whether we’re playing the side that’s ranked one or 200, we always play the same way and we always prepare the same way.
“We are preparing as hard as we can, as thoroughly as we can and we will give everything we can to win this match.”
Stajcic has a selection headache of his own, with Hayley Raso set to take no further part in the tournament due to a knee injury sustained against Japan on Matchday Three.
The 44-year-old admits, with a third successive AFC Women’s Asian Cup Final potentially in the offing, there are a number of factors to consider when selecting his team, but maintains he will deploy a strong line-up against the Thais.
“We’re certainly looking to keep the squad as fresh as we can and at the same time put out the best squad that we think can do the job against each particular opponent,” he said.
“We’ll look at different players’ strengths and weaknesses against different opponents and try and match up as best we can, while at the same time trying to manage player loads.
“This is a semi-final, so it’s not the kind of game where you can take your foot off the pedal and think you can just rest players. We’re certainly putting out the strongest team we can for tomorrow, and one that we think can do the job.”
Should they defeat the Southeast Asians, Australia will become the first team to reach three consecutive AFC Women’s Asian Cup finals since China PR in 1999.
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