Champions Thailand notch first SEA Games win against Timor-Leste
A second-half header from Worachit Kanitsribumphen spared the blushes of Thailand as they edged past minnows Timor-Leste with a 1-0 victory on Matchday 2 of their 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games campaign in Malaysia.
After a lacklustre first-half performance, the War Elephants finally made the breakthrough just near the hour mark before missing a number of late chances to seal the win.
The Thais were determined to get three points after a disappointing draw with Indonesia on Tuesday. But it was clear from the start that Timor-Leste would pose a very different challenge.
While the Indonesians attacked Thailand from the first whistle, the Group B underdogs set up to contain their opponents and hit on the break.
The War Elephants had to be patient and look for opportunities to work their way through the packed defence and they endured a frustrating first half.
It was Timor-Leste who had the first clear sight of goal when a ball over the top found Henrique Martins running clear before pulling his shot wide in the 19th minute.
And Timor-Leste came close again in the 36th minute. A long ball over the top caught out Nopphon Phonkam, whose attempted clearing header was seized upon by Henrique. The striker surged into the box and rifled a shot into the side-setting from an angle.
Thailand finally created a clear opportunity in the 41st minute when Suriya's Singmui's cushioned pass found Sittichok Kannoo 14 yards from goal. The striker cleverly made space for his shot, but his low effort was straight at Fagio Pereira in the Timorese goal.
The Thais should then have taken the lead five minutes into the second half. Rattanakorn Maikami's cross from the right was deflected into the path of Sittichok, but the striker snatched at his shot on the turn from 10 yards out and blasted over.
The tournament holders finally made the breakthrough in the 58th minute after a good spell of possession. When the ball fell to Rattanakorn on the right, he took his time to pick Worachit out at the far post and the Chonburi midfielder smartly directed his header across goal and into the far corner.
Substitute Chenrop Samphaodi had an excellent chance to add a second in the 69th minute, but made a complete hash of his header from inside the six-yard box. And Chenrop had another glaring miss with 15 minutes remaining. Picha U-Tra cut the ball back to the striker who had time to take a touch and pick his spot, but he shot wide from 10 yards out.
In other Group B action, Vietnam went clear at the top as they continued their impressive start to the campaign as they followed up a 4-0 victory over Timor-Leste by beating Cambodia 4-1.
Indonesia also had a convincing win as they saw off the challenge of Philippines 3-0. Septian David set the Indonesians on their way in the seventh minute, and they saw off the challenge of the young Azkals with ease.
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