A late goal sunk India's hopes of coming away from Thailand with a draw on Saturday. At the Yamaha Stadium in Nonthaburi near Bangkok, the hosts struck in the 73rd minute through Sarayoot Chaikamdee, the man who had scored the winner in the lone-goal win against Singapore in last month's friendly. The teams meet again at the Ambedkar Stadium on Wednesday.
With skipper Bhaichung Bhutia unavailable and Renedy Singh starting on bench, Climax Lawrence wore the captain's armband. Mohammed Rafi started in Bhutia's place as Sunil Chhetri's strike partner.
India started with 10 players who won the Nehru Cup in New Delhi last year, Bhutia being the lone exception.
"The defeat's disappointing and maybe we should have kept the ball a little more but overall, the 0-1 scoreline away to Thailand is not a bad result. It shows we have nearly come up to their level. If level I is the 2011 Asian Cup finals, this was certainly level II. We were in levels 3 or 4 till recently so I think we are on the right track," Bhutia told HT over the phone from Bangkok.
"Defending is our biggest strength and I think we did that well. Subrata (Pal) made an outstanding save. Rafi tried hard on his debut and I think Sunil too had a good game."
According to manager Pradeep Choudhury, the goal happened off a melee following a slew of corner-kicks. "He (Chaikamdee) got a free ball inside the six-yard box and placed it well," the manager said.
Thailand, according to goal.com, had the better chances but Chhetri hit the horizontal in the first half. Thailand too hit the framework through Teerasil Dangda in the fourth minute.
Surkumar Singh replied with a long-ranger which keeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool gripped.
Thailand began the second half better but Phichitphong Choeichiu was well denied by Anwar.