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Returning Thai trio to add power

Bangkok: Milovan Rajevac is expecting his trio of Japan-trained players to enhance the level of his squad when Thailand return to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in more than a decade, with their sights set on a place in the knockout rounds of the UAE 2019 finals.

Thailand last played at the continental championship when the country co-hosted the 2007 edition with Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia and they have been drawn to face hosts the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and India in Group A.

In six previous appearances, the War Elephants have only progressed beyond the group phase once – that was in 1972 when they finished in third position – but with Rajevac able to add Chanathip Songkrasin (pictured above), Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan to his squad, the Serb is confident his team can have a successful January.

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“They’ve gained a lot by playing in one of the best leagues, it’s very competitive and you can see that they are trying to achieve more,” says Rajevac of the trio’s exploits in Japan this year. “And they are getting more of a response from the other players, they all look up to them as more experienced players and the players who are able to make a difference, especially when it comes to a competition like the Asian Cup.

“It’s beneficial to our team, but also to the other players and the team as a whole. They will be great additions and we are looking forward to having them because we’re going to be a stronger team with them involved. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use them in the AFF Cup, but you could see in our friendly match against Trinidad & Tobago just how much they contributed and how much the others improve when they’re around.”

Teerasil (pictured above, left) and Theerathon (pictured below) have both returned to parent club Muanthong United after loan spells with Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vissel Kobe respectively while Chanathip has signed a long-term deal to stay with Consadole Sapporo after impressing for the Hokkaido-based club.

The trio, along with Belgium-based goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, will be added to the squad that just missed out on reaching the final of the AFF Cup and Rajevac believes their return can help the other players in the squad raise their game.

“They give the team a boost and they are the leaders of this team,” he told “It’s great to have them and I’m really looking forward to having them involved. They are the leaders; they have the most experience.

“But on the other hand, the AFF Cup has brought us a lot because it was a chance for some other players to prove themselves and to shine and establish themselves and show me they deserve to be with the team and that they have the motivation to succeed. The AFF Cup has helped us establish a strong squad.

“The overseas-based players will improve the competition for every place in the team, so they will also bring some extra motivation to the other players because they’ll want to prove themselves. Everybody’s ready to fight for their place in the team.”

Thailand kick off their challenge for a place in the knockout rounds when they face off against India before taking on Bahrain and hosts UAE, and Rajevac is hoping to notch up a win when his side take on Stephen Constantine’s side on January 6.

“We did our research after the draw and I know all four teams will be confident of their chances to progress to the next round,” he said. “Definitely they will all believe because the system of the competition is like that and everyone has faith in themselves. That’s going to make things interesting.

“The team will play for the best result. India have been improving in recent years, working with good coaches and it’s a sport which is improving in India compared to the past. At a competition like the Asian Cup or the World Cup, the first match is always very important.

“Everybody has to be very focused and determined and it’s difficult to predict. Every team will want to realise their chances, but we have faith in our squad and we believe we can have a positive outcome. So let’s see what happens.”

Photos: AFP

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