Kuala Lumpur: Thailand coach Zoran Jankovic will ask his players to raise their standard of play to a new level when they travel to China in January to take on the continent’s best at the AFC U23 Championship.
The Thais go into the tournament as the reigning SEA Games gold medallists after continuing the nation’s dominance at regional level, but Jankovic is hoping his team can build on the title-winning performance in Malaysia and make an impact on the continental scene.
“These players are a good generation and we hope to show the best we can,” the former Bulgaria international striker told the-AFC.com.
“We’ll try to fight. This team won at the SEA Games in Malaysia in August, but this is different.
"If you compare the teams in Asia, it’s different. It’s a different style, the players have different bodies. Everything is different.
“That’s one part of this, but we have the best players here. They need to go up: it’s like playing on a Playstation, they need to go up to the next level. They must go up.
“This is the future of Thailand. For me, now, we have a very big group of players who can be a big part of the future for the country.”
Thailand have been drawn in a difficult group, with games against Japan, DPR Korea and Palestine ahead of Jankovic’s side in January, but the 43-year-old former Dalian Shide forward is confident the current crop of players is amongst the best the country has ever produced.
“We have a lot of new players, young guys who are 19 years old,” he said. “I don’t want to say they are better than other players but the generation that is coming for Thai football, there are some good players.
“The bodies are a little bit better than before too, they are working differently and building their bodies personally. At this level you have to be prepared to work alone and these players are doing that.
“Cristiano Ronaldo works when he’s alone, he doesn’t just do what he does with his team and players now know if they want to successful they have to do that too. They must work all the time.”
Thailand are appearing at the AFC U23 Championship for the second tournament in a row after exiting the competition in Qatar in 2016 – which also doubled up as the continent’s qualifying phase for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – at the end of the group phase and Jankovic is setting his sights on a stronger performance this time around.
“We can’t play and think we’re playing against Japan or whoever,” he said. “We need to play our way and be stronger. In this part of Asia, the bodies of the players are different compared to teams like Jordan, or Iraq, or Australia.
“It’s important for us to prepare against those kind of teams because the Thai players are very good technically, but we need to be stronger and faster too.
“We will try to go through our group, that’s our target. After that, who knows. But I hope we can go through and if we don’t, I’ll be disappointed.
“The group is very, very strong. It will be very difficult but we will try. We have good prospects because we’ve going up, up, up and I hope we can continue in this way.”