Thailand must go on attack versus U.A.E. in AFC World Cup qualifying

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Thailand resume their World Cup qualifying campaign on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, and it is vital that the War Elephants start picking up points if they want to stay in contention.

Kiatisuk Senamuang's side face two tough away games in five days, with a trip to Iran to face Iraq the second of a doubleheader Tuesday in West Asia. Having lost in Saudi Arabia on Matchday One, and at home to Japan on Matchday Two, the Thais desperately need positive results to get their campaign up and running.

It will not be easy, but here are five things Kiatisuk's men must do if they are to turn around their fortunes in Group B.

1. Go on the offensive

The first two games taught us that the Southeast Asian champions are better-suited to taking the game to the opposition than the other way around. The War Elephants attacked Saudi Arabia and scorned several chances before a controversial late penalty gave the hosts an undeserved win.

In the second game, Thailand appeared to have been set up to contain a talented Japanese side, but the plan failed miserably, and only an inspired showing from Kawin Thamsatchanan in goal prevented the scoreline from becoming embarrassing. In the end, the 2-0 defeat flattered Thailand and exposed their weaknesses in trying to play defensively.

It is important that the Thais learn from this, and it will be interesting to see if Kiatisuk takes things a step further and deviates from his usual formation, featuring Chanathip Songkrasin in the playmaker position and Teerasil Dangda as lone striker. It has become predictable, and Teerasil is not the predator Thailand might need to take chances. With Adisak Kraisorn still out injured, it could be time to take a chance on Siroch Chatthog, who impressed in his substitute appearance against Japan.

Thailand's head coach hinted at a more offensive approach when he was quoted in The Bangkok Post as saying, "We need more attacking options, and we will train more in attacking."

2. Take the middle ground

The return of Thailand's first-choice central midfield pairing, Sanrawat Dechmitr and Sarach Yooyen, will be welcomed. Sanrawat missed the first two games with an injury, while Sarach sat out the Japan game after being red-carded against the Saudis.

Both men are having excellent seasons at their clubs, and their experience will be vital in protecting the defence and dictating the attacking tempo. In any game, winning the midfield battle often dictates the outcome, and the Thais will hope having these two back at the heart of the team can make a difference.

There will be decisions to make regarding the other midfielders. Wide men Mongkol Tossakrai and Kroekrit Thaweekarn started against Saudi, but neither made an impact. Kiatisuk dropped Mongkol for the Japan game but kept faith with Kroekrit. He, like most of his teammates, struggled to impose himself on the game.

The Thais could consider playing Peerapat Notchiaya at left-back and pushing skipper Theerathon Bunmathan into left midfield. Charyl Chappuis could be an option on the right of midfield, making a solid unit.

3. Stay focused

Kiatisuk has stressed the need for his team to cut the lapses in concentration that have proven costly. Sarach's decision to needlessly lunge into a challenge against Saudi resulted in the winning penalty. Japan's opening goal in Bangkok came from a free header, as Genki Haraguchi was given time and space from 12 yards out. The second strike came as a result of Tanaboon Kesarat's misjudgement, allowing Takuma Asano to go clear and fire home.

Football at this level is unforgiving, and the UAE and Iraq have the players to exploit such errors.

"I have a concern about my players suffering from lapses in concentration, which have already cost us two matches," Kiatisuk said. "I am going to have man-to-man chats with the players. They need to understand the tactics and importance of staying focused throughout the match."

4. Stop UAE's Abdulrahman and Khalil

The main danger for the UAE is likely to come from their star playmaker, Omar Abdulrahman. The 25-year-old Al-Ain man has been one of the region's top talents for years. The Thais will have to deny him the space in which he can work his magic.

But the Thais would also do well to keep a close eye on talented striker Ahmed Khalil. He scored both goals in the Emiratis' 2-1 victory in Japan last month, and his hard running caused the hosts all kinds of problems. Khalil might not have the eye-catching talent of Abdulrahman, but he is a prolific scorer at club and international level. He netted four times against both Malaysia and Timor Leste in the previous group stage.

If Thailand can find a way to keep these two quiet, their chances of a draw or a victory will be significantly stronger.

5. Beat Iraq to move off bottom spot

Iraq have fallen a long way since they reached the last four of the Asian Cup in 2015. Like Thailand, the Iraqis lost their first two Group B games in September. The Mesopotamia Lions sit just seven places above the War Elephants in the latest FIFA world rankings.

The countries played out two 2-2 draws in the previous qualifying round, and Thailand's performance in Tehran in March will give them plenty of encouragement. The Thais were denied victory by only an injury-time strike from Ali Adnan.

Iraq have since been weakened by the international retirement of legendary striker Younis Mahmoud, so Thailand must take their chance to get points on the board against the weakest opponents in the group.

Any points gained against Asian powerhouses Japan and Australia can be considered a bonus, but Thailand must look to make a statement when they face Iraq.