Bidding for their 16th gold medal in SEA Games history, 2015 champions Thailand picked themselves up after a slow start to the campaign by outplaying Cambodia 3-0 in their Group B clash at the Selayang Stadium on Sunday night.
Having drawn with Indonesia 1-1, Thailand had to labour hard for a 1-0 win over Timor Leste last week. But showing greater enterprise against Cambodia, the Thais came away with a convincing win to keep the three-way fight for the semifinals going with Vietnam and Indonesia,
Vietnam were once again in punishing form, trouncing the Philippines 4-0 for their third straight win, while Indonesia beat Timor Leste 1-0 Cambodia crashed to their third defeat in as many matches to sit at the bottom of Group B, worse off in terms of goals conceded to Timor Leste who have also lost all three games.
For the first 35 minutes, Cambodia fought on level terms but a defensive lapse led to Thailand’s Phicha Au-Tra breaking the deadlock.
A rough tackle by Hoy Phalin on Phicha moments before the break led to a fracas in the Cambodian area with several players from both sides joining in. At the end of the ugly incident, Cambodia’s Sok Samnang and Thailand’s Chaiyawat Buran were ordered off the pitch.
With both sides reduced to 10 men, Thailand, displaying better coordination in their moves, grabbed the initiative.
Om Sereyrath, alert in the Cambodian goal, kept the scoreline down, but not for long. A fast-advancing Autra was brought down inside the box by Soeuy Visal and the resulting penalty was converted by substitute Nattawut Sombathuotha in the 77th minute.
The crafty midfielder was back 10 minutes later to complete his brace, producing a stunning drive in open play to beat Sereyrath.
While stretching the lead to three, the goal crucially helped Thailand match Indonesia on goal difference as the two fight for a semifinal slot behind runaway leaders Vietnam.
Cambodia are to next play Timor Leste at the UM Arena Stadium today, with kick-off at 7:45pm Cambodian time.