STEVE DARBY MAY LOSE HIS JOB

Lightning struck at the National Stadium in Vientiane yesterday when hot favourites Thailand were eliminated from the men’s football tournament.

Needing just a draw against Malaysia in their final Group A game, the Thais suffered a humiliating 2-1 defeat.

The shocking loss ended Thailand’s bid to win the title for a record ninth straight time. The Kingdom also failed to get past the first round for the first time since 1973 when the biennial event was known as the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEA) Games.

In four matches in Vientiane, Thailand failed to beat a credible side. In their other three games, they drew 1-1 with Vietnam and defeat minnows Cambodia and East Timor.

Against Malaysia, the Thais were okay in the first half. But after they took the lead early in the second half, they seemingly out of sorts and conceded two goals in the last 10 minutes.

“It is unbelievable. Thailand are out,” the Laos TV commentator said at the end of the match. “Thailand were leading and then made incredible mistakes.”

The commentator also criticised a Thai player for kicking a Malaysian player after he resorted to time-wasting tactics.

“Is this a football match or a boxing bout?” the commentator said.

It was a pity that Thailand’s top striker Teerasil Dangda was unfit. He suffered an injury and was substituted in Thailand’s opening game against Vietnam, and did not play in the other three games.

Teerasil reportedly wanted to start against Vietnam because his family and friends were in Vientiane to watch him play.

Teerasil’s understudy Sompong Soleb had been on fire with six goals. Unfortunately, he could not find the net in meaningful games against Vietnam and Malaysia, and all his goals were against East Timor and Cambodia.

It was a huge blow for Steve Darby, coach of Thailand’s SEA Games (Under-23) side, who knows a lot about Malaysia.

Before yesterday’s match, he said he groomed Malaysia striker Saarani Ahmad Fakri and midfielder Rahim Safiq. As their mentor, Darby should be proud. As Thailand’s coach, Darby should suffer.

Both Fakri and Safiq played well against Thailand. Worse was that Fakri scored the winner in injury time.

Thailand’s head coach Bryan Robson may feel relieved that he was not assigned to take charge of the Under-23 side. Darby said after the Malaysia defeat that he was to blame and would shoulder responsibility.

With yesterday’s setback, Thailand are no longer the number one in Southeast Asia. They also failed to win the previous two Asean Championships (for full national teams).

The blow was the end of Thailand’s golden era in the SEA Games but it is not the end of the world. A number of players in the squad have good technique and what they lacked in Vientiane might be the right tactics and physical strength.

The Football Association of Thailand (FAT) must make a decision whether to keep Darby as coach of the Under-23 team or allow him to be only assistant coach of the full national team. The Under-23 side will have a much tougher task at next year’s Asian Games.