Thais confident but not complacent in defence bid
Thai Under-23 coach Choketawee confident of defending football gold
Midway through his sentence, Thailand Under-23 coach Choketawee Promrut stopped and glared at a group of his footballers who emerged from the lifts at the Days Hotel Singapore at Zhongshan Park yesterday.
One player caught his steely stare and immediately dropped to the floor for 10 push-ups before correcting his mistake - an untucked T-shirt.
Three other players, and even an official, joined in the impromptu workout, to the bemusement of hotel guests and the South-east Asia (SEA) Games volunteers at the hotel lobby.
Defending champions Thailand are the most successful team in the SEA Games football tournament, winning 12 titles since 1977, and this batch of Under-23 footballers are clearly taking their title defence in Singapore very seriously.
Speaking to The New Paper hours after the team's arrival here yesterday, Choketawee, 40, said: "We are confident of defending our title but, at the same time, we don't want to be complacent."
"Yes, we are the favourites, but we don't want to talk so much now and give ourselves too much pressure; we want to show it on the field instead," added the former national defender, who once played for Gombak United, Tanjong Pagar United and Tampines Rovers in the S.League.
While star playmaker Charyl Chappuis will miss the tournament due a long-term knee injury, the Thais will have the services of Chanathip Songkrasin, as well as their 2014 Suzuki Cup-winning backline of Peerapat Notechaiya, Tanaboon Kesarat, Adisorn Promrak and Narubodin Weerawatnodom.
Head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang masterminded the War Elephants' 1-0 World Cup qualifier win over Vietnam on Sunday at the Rajamangala National Stadium and will oversee the team's preparations for their away fixture against Taiwan on June 16.
Famously known as "Zico" at home because of his exploits as a player, Kiatisuk will continue with the national team while his national assistant Choketawee will mastermind the SEA Games defence.
"He (Kiatisuk) may come for a few matches, if he has the time, but both the SEA Games and the World Cup qualifiers are important to us," said Choketawee, who was part of the Thai Dream Team in the 1990s and 2000s with Surachai Jaturapattarapong, Tawan Sripan and Kiatisuk.
"The Thai league is very strong in recent years and we have enough good players for both teams."
Choketawee's team are in Group B with Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, Brunei and Timor Leste, and will start their campaign against Laos at Bishan Stadium on Friday night.
While Malaysia and Vietnam are Thailand's toughest group stage opponents, Choketawee insisted every game - all the way to the final - will be a difficult one.
He said: "Every team at the Under-23 level are strong in this competition because most of the players are around the same age and stage of their development.
"There were a few Singapore players who played against Thailand in a friendly (Singapore lost 2-0 in late March) who will feature in this SEA Games team, so they are strong, too.
"Also, they are playing on home ground. We will underestimate no one here."
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