ACL Legends: Thailand
Kuala Lumpur: Having featured countries from East, West and Central Asia in our AFC Champions League legends series, this week we turn our attention to ASEAN and highlight five players from Thailand who have lit up the Continental competition.
The first-ever AFC Champions League final featured Thai side BEC Tero Sasana, while both Buriram United and Muangthong United have made the knockout rounds over the years. Players from all three sides make our list, as does a history-making striker who remains the only player from Southeast Asia to top the scoring charts.
So, enjoy reminiscing about the Thai stars who have graced the AFC Champions League since it launched almost two decades ago, and don't forget to vote for your favourite at the bottom of the article!
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AFC Champions League Editions: 2
The only Thai player to score in an AFC Champions League final, Therdsak Chaiman was outstanding in the inaugural edition in 2002-03, when the attacking midfielder played a starring role in helping BEC Tero Sasana advance all the way to the showpiece event.
Arguably his best moment came in the last five minutes of BEC's final group stage match against Shanghai Shenhua when, with the score at 1-1 and the Bangkok side facing elimination, Therdsak cut in from the right and fired a superb left-footed effort from distance into the bottom corner.
The Suphanburi native was also, decisively, on the scoresheet in the semi-final against Pakhtakor, putting his side 3-1 up in the first leg before a 1-0 loss in the return meeting in Tashkent saw the Thai champions advance. A 2-1 aggregate defeat against Al Ain meant the Continental dream ended in disappointment, but Therdsak did net from the spot in a 1-0 second-leg win in Bangkok that at least gave the Rajamangala Stadium crowd something to cheer.
While Therdask returned to the tournament in 2009, the then 35-year-old was unable to scale the same heights with Singaporean side Warriors as they exited at the group stage. But his performance in the maiden tournament continues to live long in the memory, while BEC remain the only Thai side to have appeared in the final.
AFC Champions League Editions: 6
Few players can strike a ball quite like left-back Theerathon Bunmathan, the dead-ball specialist who's made a habit of producing the spectacular on the Continental stage since debuting with Buriram United in 2012.
The following year he helped Buriram become the first Thai side since Therdsak's BEC to reach the knockout rounds before they exited at the last eight. His attacking capabilities were on full display in the ensuing campaigns as Theerathon scored stunning free-kicks in both 2014 and 2015 － in addition to a goal directly from a corner － with Osaka sides Cerezo and Gamba on the receiving end.
A move to Muangthong United brought an end to a trophy-laden spell with Buriram, but not to his love of scoring against Japanese opposition. Another fabulous free-kick helped secure a famous victory over Kashima Antlers in the 2017 group stage as Theerathon helped another Thai side reach the knockout rounds.
Having stood out so many times against Japanese teams, it's hardly surprising Theerathon wound up in Japan and, after winning the 2019 J.League with Yokohama F. Marinos, the 30-year-old had already bagged an assist in the 2020 AFC Champions League before the competition was brought to a halt.
AFC Champions League Editions: 3
Another player who only appeared in the very early editions of the AFC Champions League, Worrawoot Srimaka's greatest achievements on the Continent actually came in the mid-90s when he won back-to-back Asian Club Championship titles with Thai Farmers Bank.
However, in the inaugural AFC Champions League, he captained BEC Tero Sasana as they reached the final, with the striker opening the scoring in the first leg of the semi-final against Pakhtakor before the Bangkok side ultimately advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
Worrawoot returned a year later to score in BEC's 4-1 opening-day victory over Shanghai Shenhua; however, he went off just before the hour and played no further part in the tournament as his side exited after losing their next five games in a row.
The Songkhla native then swapped Thailand for Vietnam and in the 2005 edition he scored Binh Dinh's only two goals in the group stage, including the match-winning strike back in his homeland against Krung Thai Bank as the V.League side picked up their maiden victory on the Continent.
AFC Champions League Editions: 7
A Buriram United legend who's been part of all seven of the northeastern side's AFC Champions League campaigns, goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen has been pivotal in the Thunder Castles rise to prominence in their homeland and into a competitive force on the Continent.
Indeed, such is the importance of Siwarak to his team, the custodian has started 47 out of Buriram's 48 matches in the competition proper. Arguably his greatest contribution, however, came in the 2013 play-off round when he saved all three of Brisbane Roar's penalties in a shootout to help his side advance to the group stage.
That year would prove to be Buriram's finest in the competition as they progressed to the last 16 for the first time and, after defeating Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor 2-1 in the first leg of the Round of 16, the talented shot-stopper kept a clean sheet in a scoreless draw in Tashkent as they advanced to the quarter-finals.
In the ensuing years, Buriram have reached the knockout rounds just once, but their custodian has more than played his part in some famous results, including a pair of draws against Asian powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande in the 2018 group stage and home wins over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in 2018 and 2019.
AFC Champions League Editions: 1
While Nantawat Tansopa (above, 19) may be relatively unknown outside Thailand, who he never represented at international level, his contribution in the 2008 AFC Champions League is well worthy of accolades as he achieved a feat no Thai player has managed before or since.
Nantawat remains the only player from the Southeast Asian country to have finished as the competition's top scorer － despite playing fewer games than a number of his rivals － as the forward netted nine times for Krung Thai Bank before they exited at the group stage.
A hat-trick at home to bottom side Nam Dinh of Vietnam was noteworthy but it was Nantawat's four-goal haul against Chinese giants Beijing FC that really stood out as the now dissolved Krung Thai Bank claimed a famous 5-3 victory in what proved to be their last AFC Champions League match.
The likes of Lucas and Masato Yamazaki scored the goals to inspire Gamba Osaka to the title but neither would catch Nantawat, who also scored away in Vietnam and China PR in what was his only appearance on the Continent. He ended the campaign on nine goals in just six games － a total no Thai player has come close to surpassing －as he wrote his name into the AFC Champions League history books.
Now you've read up on our five Thailand legends in the AFC Champions League, tell us who is your favourite by voting below (Poll ends at 1600 (UTC 8) on May 22).
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