AFC U23: Chanathip Songkrasin earns point for Thailand against North Korea
Thailand's dreams of a trip to the 2016 Rio Olympics came to an end after a 2-2 draw with North Korea in their final Group B game at the AFC U23 Championship in Qatar.
It what was a must-win game for Kiatisuk Senamuang's side, they were generally outplayed, though they demonstrated their fighting spirit by twice coming from behind. However, it was ultimately a disappointing conclusion to a tournament that Thailand had entered with the target of at least reaching the second stage.
Kim Yong-Il opened the scoring for the North Koreans before Narubadin Weerawatnodom levelled matters in the 30th minute. Poor defending allowed Yun Il-Gwang to put North Korea 2-1 up on the stroke of halftime before Chanathip Songkrasin grabbed Thailand's second equaliser with 12 minutes remaining.
Neither team could find a winner but the Koreans progress on the head-to-head goal difference rule as Saudi Arabia -- beaten 2-1 by Japan -- also go out, with three teams on two points.
North Korea had the first chance after four minutes when Jang Ok-Chol broke clear on the left. His low cross was met by Kim but the striker's left-footed close range shot was straight at Thai keeper Somporn Yos.
A minute later, a clumsy challenge from Adison Promrak on Kim gave the North Koreans a free-kick 25 yards from goal. With the Thais expecting a direct shot, their opponents tried a smart training ground move that released Kim with the aid of a deflection. The Korean forward looked offside but there was no flag and Somporn made an excellent save to deny him.
The North Koreans early pressure paid off when they got a deserved opener through Kim in the 17th minute. The striker got in front of Adison and glanced home Ri Un-Chol's cross, with Somporn stranded.
The War Elephants finally had an effort on goal in the 23rd minute but Peerapat Notechaiya squandered a promising position by shooting well wide from 20 yards when he had teammates in space.
There was little respite for Kiatisuk's side as the North Koreans looked stronger, sharper and hungrier, regularly forcing the Thais into giving the ball away.
But completely against the run of play, Thailand levelled the score through Narubadin in the 30th minute. Peerapat worked a neat one-two with Chanathip on the left, broke into the box and evaded a couple of challenges before his low, driven cross was prodded into an open goal by Narubadin at the far post.
The Thais made an early substitution when forward Nattawut Sombatyotha -- who had barely touched the ball -- was replaced by attacking midfielder Thanasit Sriphala. The goal and the change seemed to energise the War Elephants and they started pressing their opponents more effectively.
Unfortunately for their band of enthusiastic fans, Thailand's defensive weaknesses were exposed once again on the stroke of half-time. A deep free-kick from the right was met by the head of Jang Kuk-Chol, who nodded the ball across to the right of the goal. Yun was left unmarked eight yards out and knocked the ball home from an angle.
Thailand made a lively start to the second half, with Chanathip becoming increasingly influential. His lobbed pass almost put Thanasit in the clear but North Korean keeper An Tae Song charged out of his box to clear the danger.
But the Koreans began to assert themselves again and Somporn came to Thailand's rescue twice in the space of a minute. First, a flick on from Kim put Jang through on goal but Somporn dived to his right to save the low shot. Kim then set up another chance when he cut the ball back to So Jyon-Jin, whose shot from the edge of the area was brilliantly tipped wide by Somporn as the ball was heading for the top corner.
Thailand were again caught out by a ball over the top in the 66th minute when Kim was sent clear before Adison recovered in time to block his shot.
Kim came close yet again in the 73rd minute when Tanaboon Kesarat's shocking clearance gifted him possession on the left wing. Kim took possession, skipped passed Tanaboon and fired the ball just wide of the far post.
But, amazingly, Thailand levelled against the run of play again when Chanathip struck from long-range. The War Elephants' skipper collected the ball 25 yards from goal and let fly with a powerful shot that completely caught out An in the Korean goal. The keeper had moved to his right and misjudged the flight of the ball, and his flailing left arm succeeded only in helping the ball into the net.
North Korea hit back and Jang's low shot from the right required a smart save from Somporn to keep it out. Kim and Somporn then resumed their personal duel when the striker again found himself through on goal after the Thai defence went to sleep. This time Kim seemed to be caught in two minds and stumbled over the ball and into the keeper.
As the game reached its conclusion, the North Koreans always looked the more likely to snatch a winner, as the ragged Thai defence was pulled all over the place.
But, in the end, neither side found the killer touch and Thailand saw their hopes of a place at the 2016 Rio Olympics come to a premature end.