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Thai spirit prevails in Dubai

War Elephants edge Bahrain, revive hopes

Thailand midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin (second left) celebrates his goal with teammates.

The cornered War Elephants stormed back into contention for a place in the knockout phase of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup with a 1-0 victory over Bahrain in Dubai on Thursday.

The victory, ensured by a 58th-minute goal by Consadole Sapporo star Chanathip Songkrasin, has thrown the Group A race wide open with all four teams being in the running for places in the last 16 stage of the event.

Hosts the United Arab Emirates beat India 2-0 in their second Group A battle late Thursday night. The top two teams in each of the six groups and four best third-placed teams will advance to the knockout stage.

Chanathip lauded the team effort after the victory.

"We have been through a tough phase and we faced a number of problems in the build-up to this match," said Chanathip, who was last month voted among the best 11 players in the J1 League.

"It was good to see that the our spirits remained high and we played like a cohesive unit.

"We did a lot of running and we put our hearts into it. It was a very rewarding effort."

Thailand were the favourites to beat India in their opening group game on Sunday, but ended up losing 4-1. A day earlier, Bahrain had pulled off a 1-1 draw against hosts the United Arab Emirates.

The Thais can now fancy a place in the next phase as a draw against the UAE in their last first-round fixture on Monday could prove enough to see them through.

The War Elephants have never made it to the second stage of the Asian championship since it was expanded to 16 teams in 1992.

It was Thailand's first game without veteran Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac in their dugout. Rajevac was sacked by Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Somyot Poompunmuang a few hours after the loss to India.

Ahead of Thursday's game at Al Maktoum Stadium, the Thai team were offered a cash incentive based on a victory margin, and the one-goal win over Bahrain has earned the squad a bonus of five million baht.

Caretaker coach Sirisak Yodyardthai made four changes to the team that was beaten in the opening game, bringing in goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen along with defenders Adison Promrak and Suphan Thongsong and defensive midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat.

Bahrain coach Miroslav Soukup had promised an aggressive approach and his men did not waste much time, seizing control of the match from the first blow of the whistle.

Thailand, however, held their ground well and did not have much trouble in dealing with Bahrain's attacks.

The Thais relied on counter-attacks, coming close in the 20th minute but captain Teerasil Dangda's effort was blocked by Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Alawi.

Bahrain had their chances too as they kept Thai goalkeeper Siwarak busy, with the custodian pulling off a double-save against Mohamed Marhood and Sayed Dhiya Saeed in the 28th minute.

Bahrain had another chance to gain the upper hand four minutes from the break when Marhood sent in a fine cross but Mohamed Al Romaihi failed to keep his header down.

Thailand were more creative in the second half and were able to make inroads on many occasions.

A short cross from the right by Tristan Do was deflected by Ahmed Ali Juma but Chanathip charged in quickly to unleash a left-footed shot past Alawi.

Thailand looked a spirited side after the goal. There were opportunities to score for both teams but the score stood until the end to ensure three points for Sirisak in his first match in charge of the War Elephants.

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