Pokklaw strikes late to give Thailand opening World Cup qualifying win
BANGKOK: Pokklaw A-Nan was Thailand's hero as he stepped off the substitute's bench to give the home side a winning start to their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Vietnam.
The Thais were utterly dominant throughout but left it very late to make their superiority count. After Minh Chau Nguyen was sent off, Pokklaw struck with just 10 minutes left to seal victory for Kiatisuk Senamuang's men on a tense evening in Bangkok's Rajamangala stadium.
The visitors started brightly, forcing a corner in the first minute and causing panic in the home defence with Vo Huy Toan's run and cross from the left.
Thailand soon took control and Chanathip Songkrasin's first impact came when he slipped the ball to the overlapping Narubodin Weerawatnodom, whose cross from the right was cleared.
Minutes later, Chanathip was taken out by Trong Hoang Nguyen, who was given a stern warning from the referee.
The Thais had a great chance after eight minutes when an excellent dummy by Wichaya Dechmitr put Kroekrit Thawikan through on goal. Instead of shooting, he chose to cross for Teerasil Dangda but the striker was crowded out and the chance lost.
Vietnam captain Cong Vinh Le was given a talking to for a foul on Ekkachai Samre and minutes later Hoang's second foul earned a yellow card as Australian referee Ben Williams lost patience with the visitors' increasingly physical approach.
A great move involving Chanathip, Kroekrit and Ekkachai ended with a chance for Teerasil but the striker's tame effort was blocked.
Thai pressure was building and Narubodin's cut-back from the right found Wichaya, whose shot was saved by Vinh Loi To. Wichaya was involved again when he broke down the left and squared the ball to Ekkachai but the midfielder's effort was pushed wide.
The Thais came close again when, following a corner, the ball broke to Wichaya on the edge of the box. The midfielder's powerful left-foot strike was beaten away by To.
The Vietnam keeper was in action again moments later, when he raced out to save from Ekkachai after the Suphanburi midfielder had latched onto Wichaya's through ball.
Another chance was lost on the stroke of half-time when Theeraton Bunmathan put Wichaya clear on the left. Unfortunately, his cut-back was behind Chanathip, whose eventual shot was blocked.
Vietnam made one change at half time, with Dinh Thien Tanh replacing Huy Cuong Nguyen in defence. The Thai crowd became increasingly frustrated with the treatment of Chanathip, who was felled three times in quick succession.
The fourth was one too many and Minh Chau Nguyen was booked for a crude block on the playmaker.
Thailand were almost caught out on the break as a clearance from a corner looked set to find Le through on goal. However, Thai keeper Sintaweechai Hatthairaitanakool came off his line and timed his challenge perfectly to foil the Vietnam skipper.
Vietnam's half time substitute Tanh was soon heading back to the changing room with an injury to be replaced by Mai Thien Thanh. Tanh's injury had caused a lengthy stoppage and the home support was incensed when another Vietnam player called for a stretcher. Again, the injury seemed genuine as Hai Anh Nguyen went off for Mac Hong Quan.
The away side threatened again when, in almost identical opportunity to earlier, Sintaweechai won the race to the ball with Le.
Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang recognised the need for change and brought Sarawut Masuk on for Ekkachai and Pokklaw for Wichaya with 25 minutes left.
But Vietnam were gaining confidence and came close again when Vo's curling free kick had to be headed out for a corner by Teerasil.
Soon after, Vietnam were reduced to 10 men when Chau picked up a second yellow card for pulling down Sarach Yooyen.
Kiatisuk made his final roll of the dice by replacing midfielder Kroekrit with striker Adisak Kraisorn with quarter of an hour remaining. The change almost paid immediate dividends when Narubodin's deep cross from the right was met by a powerful header from Adisak. But To was equal to it and turned it wide.
But the Thais didn't have long to wait before the deadlock was finally broken.
Teerasil was the creator as he fed the ball infield to substitute Pokklaw. The Police United midfielder stepped inside a challenge and fired home a low, left-footed strike from 20 yards.
Relief in the stadium was palpable and there was soon an opportunity to seal the three points.
Chanathip worked some magic on the left and pulled back for Teerasil but the striker's shot was well off target. Adisak also came close before the referee blew the final whistle and lifted much anxiety from fans of the War Elephants.