Thailand to 'go for win', World Cup pressure is Australia - Messi J
MELBOURNE -- Southeast Asian champions Thailand will look to take advantage of an Australia team carrying the burden of expectation of trying to qualify for a fourth successive World Cup, according to playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin.
The diminutive midfielder, nicknamed "Messi J," created havoc when the two nations met in Bangkok last November, with the Socceroos lucky to escape with a 2-2 draw.
The 2015 AFC Asian Cup champions go into Tuesday's final third-round qualifier in Melbourne needing a big win, while hoping that Japan can get a result away to Saudi Arabia a few hours later. Both Australia and the Saudis are tied for the second automatic qualification spot, but the latter have a two-goal edge in terms of differential.
"It's a very big game, but the pressure is not actually on myself or the Thai national team. The pressure is actually more on the Australia team to do well and perform," Chanathip said.
"I really feel that I'd just like to have fun and enjoy the match. It's always been my pride to play for the national team in front of our fans. Even though we're playing a great side [in Australia]. We are very keen and eager to win."
Chanathip, who was voted most valuable player as Thailand won the last two AFF Suzuki Cup to underline their Southeast Asian dominance, warns that he is a better player now than he was last November when the sides last met.
The 23-year-old went on loan earlier this season to J.League outfit Consadole Sapporo, and has caught the eye in his six matches in all competitions.
"I've had to be a lot more disciplined, in training and in the games in the J.League. We have to defend as a team and attack as a team and everyone has to follow a system and be very responsible in their respective positions," he said.
"No one player is bigger than the team, and that is always important. I've enjoyed my experience in the J.League."
Chanathip moved to Japan on the back of impressive performances in the 2017 AFC Champions League, as his Thai club Muang Thong United moved through to the knockout stages at the expense of Australia's Brisbane Roar.
Roar boss John Aloisi sang the praises of the midfielder after the A-League side failed to beat Muang Thong in two matches in the group stages.
Chanathip added that the cold weather in Melbourne -- Tuesday's top temperature is forecast to be only 12 degrees Celsius -- doesn't bother him or his teammates.
"I like the cold weather ... it's better than Thailand," he said.
"I also love Melbourne and Australia. I want Australia to qualify for the World Cup, but not by beating us on [Tuesday] night."
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.