WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THAIS?

Steve Darby prepares to leave Laos on Saturday after a

disastrous campaign in the SEA Games.

The final whistle from referee Pratap Singh of India signalled the end of Thailand’s bid to win a ninth straight gold in men’s football.

The 2-1 defeat against Malaysia that knocked out Thailand in the first round dealt a huge blow to the players and concerned parties.

Several Thai players were in tears and some of them laid down on the pitch like it was the end of the world.

What went wrong with the team? It seemed everything had gone wrong from the start.

When Thailand SEA Games coach Steve Darby announced his 20 players for the Vientiane tournament last month, many Thai journalists wondered whether some of them were good enough for the Games.

Darby, who is assistant to national coach Bryan Robson, defended the selection and said he did not hear complaints from anyone except journalists.

He also called on the media to support the team instead of criticising them.

Darby then had to work alongside Robson in the full national team’s campaign in the Asian Cup qualifying round.

This should not have happened as Darby should have been concentrating on his SEA Games squad. The Asian Cup assignment ended on Nov 18 and Darby did not have much time to prepare his team for the SEA Games.

On the first day of training, several players seemed unfit, probably because they did not look after themselves while they were not in the training camp.

Thailand began their campaign in Vientiane with a 1-1 draw with Vietnam after the Thais conceded a late penalty. Although the penalty looked harsh, it proved to be a factor in Thailand’s elimination.

“I bet Thailand will not win the title. The players are in bad shape,” a Thai TV commentator told me after the Vietnam game.

Thailand then beat Cambodia 4-0 and hammered East Timor 9-0, and needed just a draw against Malaysia in the final Group A match to progress to the semi-finals.

Malaysia lost to Vietnam 3-1 and many fans thought Thailand’s final group game would be just a formality.

But nothing is certain in football. Thailand took the lead against Malaysia early in the second half only for the Malaysians to strike back with two goals in the final nine minutes.

It was Thailand’s first preliminary round exit since the 1973 edition when the event was still known as the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games.

Who is to blame for the disgraceful failure?

“I’m not blaming anybody. I take responsibility for this,” said Darby.

I think two weeks were not enough for Thailand to prepare the team for the SEA Games and the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), particularly president Worawi Makudi, must take responsibility for this. As the FAT wanted Darby to help Robson in the Asian Cup qualifying round, they should have appointed another coach to oversee the SEA Games side so the person would have had more time to prepare the team.

If Darby continues to work in Thailand, he should listen to the media instead of thinking that they just try to criticise him.

The full national team’s next mission is against Jordan in Bangkok in an Asian Cup qualifier on Jan 6 and concerned parties should learn from the SEA Games setback.

If Thailand fail to get a result against Jordan, their campaign for a ticket to the finals will be in jeopardy.

If we can’t win the SEA Games and reach the Asian Cup finals, then we should not even think about the World Cup.

Worawi should also think about what he should do to take responsibility if Thailand fail to advance to the Asian Cup finals.