Thailand-Australia WCQ remains in Bangkok, Muangthong take PLT crown
The Football Association of Thailand (FAT) has performed a swift U-turn by announcing that next month's World Cup qualifier at home to Australia will be played in Bangkok as originally planned.
On Friday, the FAT had suggested it would request a change to a neutral venue or a switch to Australia, following last Thursday's passing of Thailand's revered monarch, King Bhumipol Adulyadej. The Thai government had announced a 30-day mourning period in which entertainment events would be cancelled or toned down but, on Saturday, it announced that sport could carry on as normal.
This prompted an urgent review and the FAT held a meeting on Monday morning to discuss their plans. Early in the afternoon, they confirmed that the Group B match against Australia would be played in Bangkok after all, news that will be welcomed by Socceroos' fans, many of whom had been upset by the original proposal, having made plans to travel to Bangkok for the match on Nov. 15.
However, the decision to end the domestic season early was not changed despite strong speculation that the final three games of the league campaign would be played. Four clubs -- Buriram United, Chiang Rai United, Suphanburi and Super Power Samut Prakan -- had all stated that they would not support any changes to the original ruling.
Three of these teams have little to play for in the Premier League of Thailand (PLT) but it is a convenient decision for Super Power, who sit just one point above the relegation zone. It was proposed that next season's PLT could expand to 20 teams as a compromise but nine clubs voted to continue with 18 teams, six voted for 20 and three clubs abstained.
As a result, it was ruled that there would be an 18-team league in 2017, relegating Army Untited and Chainat. It is particularly harsh on these two teams as there were just five points separating seven teams in the battle for relegation. At the top, Muang Thong United are confirmed as champions, but there is less controversy here, given that the Kirins are five points clear at the top.
It remains to be seen if the decision is challenged by one or both relegated clubs -- a familiar scenario in the Thai game where a decision is certainly not always final.
Finalists Muang Thong United and Buriram United share the League Cup, while lots will be drawn for the FA Cup title between three semifinalists Chainat, Ratchaburi and Sukhothai. If their stadium meets the AFC standards, the winner will play in the qualifying stage of the AFC Champions League next year. The other semifinalist, Chonburi, has pulled out of the competition.
On the international front, Australian fans can now look forward to a holiday in Thailand next month but, in line with the sombre mood in the country, they may be asked to be more restrained than on the usual overseas trip.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK