After a troubled week in which he was placed in temporary charge of a Thailand side reeling from a shambolic start to the Asian Cup, Sirisak Yodyadthai is now looking forward with optimism to a make-or-break fixture with UAE.
The Thais breathed life into their campaign to make the knockout stage of the competition with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Bahrain in Dubai.
Given what had gone before, that represented a highly-unforeseen outcome. While Bahrain had impressed in drawing 1-1 with hosts UAE, the highest-ranked side in the group, on the opening night, Thailand had made a frightful start to the competition.
A 4-1 thrashing at the hands of India had led to Milovan Rajevac, their coach, being summarily dismissed, and his assistant Yodyadthai taking over instead.
Read more on 2019 Asian Cup:
Given the lead in, they might have been fearful when faced with a confident Bahrain side at Al Maktoum Stadium.
Although the Gulf side controlled the opening phase, Thailand grew in confidence, and assumed the lead when Chanathip Songkrasin, their Japan-based midfielder, scored on 58 minutes.
He latched on to a cross from Tristan Do, the right wing-back, and hit his shot into the roof of Sayed Shubbar Alawi’s net.
That proved enough for the Thais to claim all three points, and means that a win over the host nation, at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on Monday, would guarantee a place in the next phase.
“Going into the next game against the UAE is going to be tough,” Yodyadthai, the undemonstrative interim coach, said.
“They have the fans’ backing at the stadium. It will be a very tough game, but I believe in the players and think they can do very well.
“We adjusted a few things tactically [against Bahrain] from the last game, and the players delivered, and they kept going.
“We are very happy. I believed in the players, and they had the determination to deliver.”
Bahrain might well have held a lead at the break, but Mohammed Al Romaihi, who scored the opening goal of the tournament in the draw against UAE on Sunday, headed over with the best chance of the first half.
Thailand made the most of the reprieve, and they were good value for the win based on the second-half-performance. Aside from Songkrasin’s goal, they hit the post twice.
“After I was appointed interim coach, we looked at the mistakes we made in the Indian game,” Yodyadthai said. “What I wanted in the team was more discipline, with an emphasis on having strong discipline in our back four.
“We worked on that for the past few days, and I’m impressed the players were able to follow the instructions.”
Miroslav Soukup, the Czech coach in charge of Bahrain, was at a loss to explain the drop off in the level of his side’s performance after their bright performance first time out.
The UAE had needed a late Ahmed Khalil penalty to force a draw against Bahrain in the opening match of the tournament, despite being placed far higher than their Gulf neighbours in the Fifa rankings.
“Sometimes, psychologically it is not easy to change the mindset,” Soukup said. “When you play against the favourites, you are not too much under pressure. UAE were strong favourites, 67 in the rankings, and us 113.
“Now, everybody is talking too much about us being the favourites, and that we must go onto the pitch and win.
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why some of my players’ quality was not as good as before. Still, we are building our team.
“I am building a team for the future. We changed many players before the first game. Only two or three players have experience of tournaments. I understand this is my responsibility, but, still this is not finished.”
Group A will be decided when Thailand and UAE meet in Al Ain at 8pm on Monday, while simultaneously Bahrain face India in Sharjah.