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Thailand plays post-Christmas grinch to Azkals with Boxing Day bash

Teerasil Dangda put on a late Christmas show for Thailand. AFF
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—Thailand haunted the Philippine Azkals on the night after Christmas with what looks like a "knockout" on Boxing Day Monday, a 4-0 win in Matchday 3 of the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup at the Thammasat Stadium in Rangsit, Thailand.

It was a Teerasil Dangda show for the Thais as they returned to action after taking the Friday night bye with yet another display of brilliance to keep hold of the top spot in Group A play.

Dangda began his late Christmas party with a third-minute header goal off a Theeraton Bunmathan free kick to put Thailand ahead.

The match basically became a one-sided affair from thereon as the home team kept on finding a gap in the Azkals' backline only for Julian Schwarzer to spoil the goods.

However, Amani Aguinaldo tripped Ekanit Panya within a point-blank range from the goal while trying to take the ball away, and Japanese referee Yudai Yamamoto called for a penalty.

Dangda successfully sent Schwarzer in the wrong direction and nailed the 41st-minute spot kick for his brace.

Dangda then assisted on Adisak Kraisorn's 57th-minute goal before Suphanan Bureerat iced the match with his goal in the 63rd minute.

Ton Phuthawchueak, however, still had to work in the final 10 minutes of the match as the Azkals, struggling to even create a chance due to Thailand's solid defense, tried to sneak in two headers and a Sandro Reyes rocket, but Phuthawchueak preserved his clean sheet in the end.

With his brace, Dangda has tied Kenshiro Daniels, who was held scoreless on Monday night, and Malaysia's Faisal Halim in the best scorer race with three goals each.

Dangda and Halim, however, will have a direct chance of overtaking Daniels as the Azkals will take their bye round on Thursday even as Malaysia will play Vietnam in Hanoi on Tuesday night in Group B action.

Thailand remains perfect with two wins in as many matches for six points even as it holds the tiebreaker over Indonesia, a 7-0 winner over Brunei earlier Monday, for the top spot on goal difference.

The Azkals, meanwhile, fell to fourth place with three points off one win and two losses, conceding the goal-difference tiebreaker to Cambodia.

The Azkals, however, could be eliminated right on their bye night if Indonesia and Thailand battle to a draw in Jakarta.

The Azkals still have a mathematical chance of sneaking into the semifinals if Thailand demolishes Indonesia on the road, but they need to score a blowout win at home against the same Indonesian side next Monday night and hope that Cambodia would not pull off a miracle and stun Thailand away from Phnom Penh also on the second night of 2023.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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