Thai midfield maestro Chanathip eyes bigger things
Thai playmaker eyes a bigger stage after SEA Games mission
(Rungrat Phumichantuk 44)
TIMOR LESTE 0
For much of last night's first half at the Bishan Stadium, it looked as though a shock was on the cards.
Up against the mighty Thailand Under-23 side, clear favourites to retain their SEA Games football gold, Timor Leste somehow managed to repel them time and time again.
Then, a minute before the break, the complexion of the match changed with one swing of Chanathip Songkrasin's right foot.
The War Elephants' star dissected the opposition defence with a glorious pass, paving the way for Rungrath Poomchanteuk to break the deadlock.
That strike was enough to hand Thailand a 1-0 win and keep them top of Group B with a 100 per cent record from two games, ahead of a pivotal clash against Malaysia on Thursday.
One suspects Chanathip will be a key figure if Thailand do go on and win gold in Singapore.
Last year, his inspirational displays helped the Thai senior side win the AFF Suzuki Cup, as he claimed the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.
Many are tipping him for bigger and better things in the future, although the silky playmaker insists he is only focused on helping the Thais win a record 15th SEA Games gold, for now.
"Of course, I want to play in Europe," the 21-year-old told The New Paper, after last night's win.
"But, for now, I am only thinking about working hard for this team.
"Although I have big ambitions, it is important that I work non-stop at improving myself.
"We're happy with the win, although Timor Leste defended a lot and made it difficult for us to attack.
"But we head into every game only aiming to get the three points…
"That's what we achieved, and that's what we'll be looking to do in the next game."
Chanathip's rise to prominence has apparently seen him attract interest from Japanese giants Gamba Osaka as well as Bundesliga outfit Hamburg.
While he admits signing for a European club would be the ultimate dream, Chanathip wants to first prove himself in one of Asia's top competitions.
"My first target is to play in the J-League," said the 1.57m-tall schemer.
"I think if you can succeed in the J-League, then there's a chance you'll be good enough to play in Europe.
"That's the dream, to play for one of the biggest teams in Europe."
For now, the BEC Tero Sasana attacker, who received the biggest cheers from the Thai fans last night, will have to settle for being a big fish in the smaller pond that is South-east Asian football.
"Obviously, he (Chanathip) is very important for us," Thailand coach Choketawee Promrut told TNP.
"We're expecting a lot of our opponents to just come and defend when they play against us.
"This means that it's important that we make the most when we get one or two chances, and Chanathip helped us with that tonight with a great assist.
"He is capable of doing this all the time, but it was also important that our team worked hard together to get the win."
TNP Man of the Match: Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)