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Akira Nishino determined to take Thailand into third round of Asian Qualifiers


Bangkok: Thailand coach Akira Nishino is focusing his attention on securing wins in their three remaining FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers matches as the War Elephants set their sights on a place in the next phase of the preliminaries.

Nishino’s side currently occupy third position in Group G and are three points behind leaders Vietnam ahead of their meeting with Indonesia in Dubai on Thursday as the Qualifiers resume after an 18-month break due to the ongoing pandemic.

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The Thais will have to pick up the points needed without Japan-based players Theerathon Bunmathan and Chanathip Songkrasin, and Nishino is aware of the challenge facing his team.

“Obviously, there are only a few points separating the top four teams but we are not looking at the table, we are just focused on getting all three wins,” the former Japan coach told the-AFC.com. “I believe there is a strong chance we can qualify if we are able to get the maximum nine points from the three games.

“It is important to get the win against Indonesia as it will create a positive momentum going into the two remaining matches, albeit, it will be difficult for us as the players had limited time to train with each other and we are missing two key players from the J.League.”

Five points separate leaders Vietnam from the United Arab Emirates in fourth place, with Bert van Marwijk’s side holding a game in hand over the teams above them – including second-placed Malaysia – making Group G one of the tightest across the eight qualifying sections.

Thailand have lost just once in their first five games, but a pair of draws with the Vietnamese have left Nishino’s team playing catch-up. He remains confident, however, despite seeing his side lose to Oman in a friendly last week before being held to a 2-2 draw by Tajikistan on Sunday.

“I always anticipated this group would be very tough to compete in, there is no more room for error for us if we want to progress to the next round,” he said

“The two friendly matches we played enabled us to identify potential final squads for our national team and at the same time it gave the players much-needed match fitness going into the crucial three matches of the Qualifiers.”

After 18 months without international football – Thailand’s last competitive game was a 0-0 draw with Vietnam in November 2019 – Nishino is confident his team has prepared well enough to make a positive impact when qualifying finally resumes.

“It has been a tough situation for everyone around the world,” he said. “However, in some countries national football team training was allowed to return earlier than in others due to the improved situation in their country - this may have led to some teams having an advantage over the others."

“For Thailand, we managed to arrange domestic friendly matches in October and November and that allowed me to see how the players were and, honestly, some of them improved a lot. We also were able to bring some new faces to the national team squad.

“All the players and staff will do our best to qualify and we ask for the support of the Thai people.”

Photos: FA Thailand

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