Thailand grab late point against Saudi Arabia in AFC U23 championship
Pinyo Inpinit's late goal rescued a point for Thailand as they drew the opening game of the AFC U23 Championship 1-1 with Saudi Arabia.
Thailand looked like they were going to pay the ultimate price for squandering several clear-cut chances throughout the game when Mohammed Al-Saiari nodded in the opening goal with 20 minutes remaining.
But Pinyo fired home with six minutes left on the clock to ensure that the Thais earned some reward for an impressive display in the Group B game in Qatar.
Kiatisuk Senamuang's side survived an early penalty miss by their opponents but they more than matched them thereafter, and arguably deserved more than a point in the end.
Thailand received a boost ahead of the game as captain Chanathip Songkrasin recovered from illness in time to start and their first positive move came after seven minutes when playmaker floated a beautiful ball into the path of Tristan Do. A better first touch would have put Tristan through on goal but he struggled to get the ball under control and was crowded out.
But the Saudis soon had the perfect chance to open the scoring. A loose pass allowed Al-Saiari to run through on the left and Tanaboon Kesarat clearly fouled him just on the 18-yard line. It was probably just outside the box but a tough call for the referee, who pointed to the penalty spot.
Saudi captain Mustafa Al-Bassas stepped up to take the kick but Thai keeper Somporn Yos pushed his shot onto the bar and behind for a corner.
The Thais hit back and had an excellent chance of their own to score. Chenrop Samphaodi made an excellent run down the right and crossed low for Pinyo, who failed to make a clean connection and struck wide of an open goal from just six yards.
Pinyo was not discouraged by his miss and minutes later, he made a superb run down the left, cut inside and made space for a clear shot on goal but Ahmad Al-Harbi saved with his leg to deny him.
In an end-to-end match, Saudi were next to threaten when Al-Saiari muscled Chayawat Srinawong off the ball on the right and crossed for Fhad Almuwallad, whose angled low shot at the far post was brilliantly pushed wide by Somporn.
The Saudis had Thailand under pressure with a series of corners but the War Elephants held firm and then missed another glorious chance in the 31st minute. Chanathip seized upon a loose pass in midfield and played the ball through for Pakorn Prempak, who was clean through on goal 16 yards out. Unfortunately for Thailand, the Port FC midfielder smashed his shot wide when he should certainly have tested the goalkeeper.
Thailand were first to threaten in the second half when a superb piece of skill from Chenrop took him clear of Abdullah Madu on the left before his deep cross was headed clear.
Chenrop had a chance of his own in the 51st minute when the ball broke to him on the right. But the angle was tight and he hit the outside of the post.
Kiatisuk's side were very much on the front foot for the first 20 minutes of the second period but remained frustrated by their lack of a cutting edge.
There was yet another chance in the 66th minute when Chenrop darted down the right and cut inside onto his left foot. He tried to curl his shot into the far corner but Al-Harbi saved.
In a blow to Thailand, Chenrop -- who had been their best player -- had to be substituted, having picked up an injury. He was replaced by Thanasit Sripala.
And disaster struck for the Thais in the 71st minute when they were hit by a sucker punch. Al-Muwallad found space on the right and delivered the perfect cross for Al-Saiari to head home, having been left completely unmarked.
The Thais were shell-shocked and almost went 2-0 down after a slip from Chayawat let in a three-man break. The Saudis seemed to have too much time and choice and Saleh Al-Amri had drifted offside when he received the ball and found the net.
Saudi Arabia paid the price for being too casual in the 84th minute as Thailand scored a deserved equaliser. Substitute Worachit Kanitsribampen's through ball was missed by two defenders and found its way to Pinyo, whose finish was decisive this time.
Both sides went in search of the winner, without creating more clear-cut chances, in a match both will feel they could and should have won.
Thailand now face Japan -- who beat North Korea 1-0 earlier in the evening -- on Saturday in what will be another tough challenge. But, on the evidence of this opening game, they will be ready to do battle.