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Chiangrai's Ekanit targeting 2020 AFC Champions League knockout rounds


Doha: Despite losing their opening two games in the 2020 AFC Champions League, Ekanit Panya insists that Chiangrai United still have a chance to make the knockout rounds as the Thai side get set to resume their Group E campaign against FC Seoul on Tuesday. 

Chiangrai qualified for the Continental competition for the first time in their history after winning the 2019 Thai League 1 but suffered back-to-back 1-0 losses against Melbourne Victory and Beijing FC in February before the East Asia section of the tournament was brought to an eight-month halt by COVID-19.

While a long-term injury ruled the attacking midfielder out of the opening two games, the 21-year believes Chiangrai learnt plenty of lessons in defeat and will now look to put in an improved performance in Qatar, starting with the match against Seoul at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium.

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"We learnt that it's important to defend well in the AFC Champions League because, if we don't, the other teams have the quality to punish us," Ekanit, who is in line to make his first appearance in the competition, told the-AFC.com.

"The speed of the game is also a lot faster so we need to improve our teamwork [to match the other sides] and ensure our finishing is better because if we can't score we won't get to the next round.

"We know FC Seoul are a big team in Asia so it will be a very difficult task for us; it's important to maintain our focus all over the pitch in order to get any points from this match."

Tuesday's game against the K League 1 side may be the first time many fans of Asian football will get a glimpse of Ekanit, who enjoyed a breakthrough 2019.

Having returned from a loan spell with northern neighbours Chiangmai FC, he went on to play a starring role in his side's march to a first league title with his performances also seeing him called up for the Thailand national team for the first time.

A winning goal in a potentially crucial 2-1 Asian Qualifiers win over the United Arab Emirates last October underlined his status as one of Thailand's most promising emerging talents before injury ended up ruling him out of action for several months.

"I'm very happy to be back in the team again after such a long absence with injury and it will be great to experience the AFC Champions League for the first time," said the 21-year-old.

"Last year it was great to return to Chiangrai [and win the title] and the team has helped me improve a lot. I think we have a quality group of players who have been together many years so we all understand each other.

"My first goal for my country gave me a lot of confidence and I hope to score more in the future. I'm so happy to be part of the national team and my next aim is to make sure I get into the squad regularly."

Chiangrai will begin the tournament's resumption playing catch-up with the other teams in Group E, with Beijing on six points and Seoul and Melbourne on three.

Back-to-back games against Seoul will likely make or break Chiangrai's campaign ahead of the return meetings with Melbourne and Seoul as they prepare for an intense 10 days of action.

"It's quite tough to play four games in 10 days but we have no choice and we just need to fight to give our best for the team," added captain Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul.

"This is our first time in the group stage and it's a great experience to play against some of the best Asian players. Playing at such a high-level competition also helps us learn about our own strength and weaknesses.

"In the first two matches we had chances and didn't take them but our opponents turned their chances into goals. These are distinct differences compared to the Thai league and the small details are important.

"I want to help Chiangrai achieve good results in Qatar and, of course, it's the aim to advance to the next round. We know we'll create history for the club if we do it."

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