Curtain Rai-ser: Chiang Rai United vs. Port FC Preview

 

It’s time. After a tortuously long off-season, T1 football finally returns this weekend, with Port facing a tricky away tie in Chiang Rai on Sunday. Events seem to be conspiring in Port’s favour though, with last season’s fifth place finishers facing numerous challenges in the run-up to Sunday’s curtain-raiser. First, The Beetles sacked their manager the week before the opening game, then they went on to endure an exhausting midweek defeat, after extra time and penalties, to Japanese side Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the ACL qualifiers. Port, on the other hand, have been finding their form in some improved friendly performances, putting five past Chonburi, three past Prachuap and two past Chinese side Changchun Yatai in the last few weeks.

Chiang Rai

Gama Gamble

The turmoil at Chiang Rai hasn’t just been going on since last week, though. Since securing their fourth trophy in two years, Chiang Rai have lost both influential captain Victor Cardozo and hugely successful boss Alexandre Gama. While both exits are going to hurt, it is surely the change at the top which is going to do the most damage, especially after this week’s events. Brazilian Jose Alves Borges – a highly experienced Thai league veteran – was the first man in to replace Gama. A safe appointment. Or not. His departure was shockingly announced last Monday morning, with compatriot Ailton Silva his replacement. They like their Brazilians up North. We’re not so sure how they’re going to get on with this one, though. Chiang Rai will be Silva’s twelfth managerial appointment in just eight years, with all of those being in his home country. Experience coaching in Asia really matters, especially in the first few weeks of a new season. This looks very much like a panicky appointment.

 

Players to Watch

The mayhem upstairs doesn’t take away from some of the individual quality Chiang Rai have at their disposal, though. The main man for Port to watch out for – it’s not difficult, he’s easy to spot – is the man we call like to call Fat Bill (9). No, it’s not an ironic nickname. The 34 year old striker rolled on to the Thai football scene last season with Ratchaburi, failing to score and looking pretty poor in his first five games – including a trip to Port – before enjoying a run of 6 goals in 6 games and ultimately securing a mid-season move to Chiang Rai. He continued his improved form up North, scoring 9 in 15 for The Beetles. Port will be hoping that the reason for Bill’s poor early season form last season was the rather outrageous amount of weight he was carrying, as if the Sandpit’s scouts are to be believed (Thanks, Toby) he’s coming in to the 2019 season having eaten enough Khao Soi to feed Jadet for a year.

 

 

Balancing out Chiang Rai’s attack is Thin Bill, or William (11) to his friends. This lanky, technically proficient winger will provide a stern test for Nitipong, who will have to curb his attacking instincts a little to keep tabs on the pacey Brazilian. Expect one of the villains of 2018 – Chaiyawat Buran (18) – to replace him in the second half. On the other wing will be Siwakorn Tiatrakul (10), who I’m only mentioning because he had a useful run of 5 goals and 5 assists in the middle of last season. I still think he’s a bit rubbish, and I’ll be surprised if he scores that many in the whole 2019 season.

 

 

Chiang Rai’s midfield remains unchanged, with solid duo Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul (6) and Lee Yong-rae (8) marshaling things in the middle of the park, leaving the wing backs, in particular left wing back Suriya Singmui (30), to really bomb forward and cause Port problems on the flanks. Suriya, sometimes preferred to Kevin at under 23 level for Thailand, notched 2 assists in Chiang Rai’s 2-0 win over Port last season.

 

 

At the back Chiang Rai are a bit more of an unknown quantity this season, although in holding Sanfrecce Hiroshima to a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes they defended very well. They tried just about every combination of defenders imaginable in their back three last season, but the one constant was Victor Cardozo. With the big man, arguably the best defender in Thailand, having shockingly agreed to join PTT Rayong, Brazilian (surprise surprise) centre back Brinner (6) has some seriously big shoes to fill, and I’m really not at all sure how good he is. His individual performances looked pretty useful for Ubon last season, but his defence was shipping goals like their lives depended on it. Having played for Ubon last season at least how knows all about the dark arts of football, which will stand him in good stead at his new home. He’s big and he reaches low earth orbit when he jumps, so we’ll definitely have to watch out for him from set-pieces.

 

 

Chiang Rai also opted to let another established T1 star go last season: goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom. After his performances in the Suzuki Cup and then the Asian Cup for Thailand, Chiang Rai are probably happy they’ve let him go, especially with promising young stopper Saranon Anuin (1) coming in to take the number 1 jersey. He saved a crucial penalty in normal time against Hiroshima, and looks to be in good nick.

 

 

Form

Isn’t it a little early in the season to be talking about form? Well, Chiang Rai already have three competitive games under their belts in 2019. First, they were defeated 1-3 by Buriram in the Thailand Champion’s Cup, before reversing their fortunes with a 3-1 victory over unfancied Burmese side Yangon United and then ultimately crashing out after a heartbreaking loss on penalties to Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Taking a top Japanese team all the way to a shootout is undoubtedly a positive achievement for Chiang Rai, but they may well feel the effects of that hard-fought 120 minutes, and the long trip back from Japan, in Sunday’s game.

 

Port FC

A Brand New Engine

Port’s starting XI may look mostly unchanged in 2019, but improvements have been made where it matters. Replacing Kim Sung-hwan in defensive midfield is former Buriram man and serial champion Go Seul-ki (8). With his toughness, superior mobility and better ability to communicate with his teammates, Go will hopefully lead a more organized and consistent midfield this season.

Alongside him in central midfield will either be the tried and trusted Siwakorn (16) or new big money signing from Bangkok United Sumanya Purisai (11). Siwakorn is a box-to-box midfielder, while Sumanya offers a little less defensively but a lot more going forward. I assumed the Thai national team star was favourite to start, but in Port’s final friendly it was Siwakorn who got the nod. Playing Sumanya means that Port will have to rely on Go to protect the defense while Sumanya links up with Suarez in attacking midfield, so Jadet could be intending to use Siwakorn against stronger teams and Sumanya against teams who offer less going forward. Still, I’m going to bet that the powers that be see their 40 million baht man in the starting XI on Sunday one way or another!

The only other point of contention in Port’s likely starting XI is between the sticks. Any of Rattanai (17), Worawut (36) or Watchara (1) could feasibly be starting on Sunday, although as usual when he’s fit we give the edge to Rattanai, who can be very good when he’s not crumbling in to a thousand pieces. He also started the most recent friendly.

 

 

The rest of the XI looks very settled. In defence will once again be Rochela (22) and Dolah (4), with The Sandpit Writers’ Player of the Year Nitipong (34) and Young Player of the Year Kevin (97) bombing forward down the flanks and occasionally coming back to defend. Joining them on the wings will be the star of pre-season Pakorn (7) and speed demon Nurul (31), with Suarez (5) and Port’s top scorer last season Boskovic (23) completing one of the most formidable attacking lineups in T1.

There is also quite a bit more depth on Port’s bench this term. Ernesto Amantegui adds competition at left back, and I was very impressed by young Sansern Limwattana’s pre-season performances in central midfield. Anon (20) misses the trip as he’s on under 22 duty, but expect a few more familiar faces to be on the Port bench. Watchara (1), Todsapol (6), Adisorn (13), Ernesto (3), Sansern (88), Athibordee (35), Bodin (10), Arthit (29) and Jirattikan (21) would be my guess, although there’s always a chance that Panpanpong (19) will somehow find his way in to the 20.

Those of our more superstitious readers may want to keep an eye on Dolah and Nurul, who apparently set about restructuring Chiang Rai’s dressing room after the 2-0 away loss to The Beetles last season. Dolah was particularly unhappy, and rightfully so, with the red card given against him. Then again, if we’re talking about players who racked up bad karma points last season, Chiang Rai’s Cheating Chaiyawat must surely top the list. Still, I’m not sure what he could be reincarnated as that would be much worse than a Beetle!

 


 

We’re happy to announce that The Sportsman have once again agreed to sponsor us through the 2019 season, so as always those who aren’t able to get up to Chiang Rai and back on Sunday 24th are welcome to make the rather more manageable trip to Sukhumvit soi 13 and watch the Port game on a big screen with sound and 99 baht Tiger pints on tap. There is also a 10% VIP discount on drinks for those who wear a Port short or mention The Sandpit. Kickoff is at 19:00

 

Tom Earls

Tom Earls

Having moved to Thailand aged 10, Tom has been playing or watching football in Thailand for more than 18 years. A keen follower of the Thai National Team and an avid fan of Port FC, he is a regular contributor to The Sandpit.

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