Bacolod City - Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac insists his team’s dominant record against the Philippines, as well as recent performances, count for nothing as the two sides meet in a top-of-the-table encounter in Group B of the AFF Suzuki Cup here.
The Serbian coach expects nothing less than a tough duel with the Azkals at Panaad Stadium as both teams aim to secure entry to the semifinals with a third straight victory.
“It's definitely an important match for both teams as the team that will win gets to the semifinals,” Rajevac said. “We’re expecting a tough match and we will be preparing well for this match. Mr. (Sven Goran) Eriksson is a great coach. We are both experienced coaches and we know the importance of this match."
The Thais, winners of the last two editions of the competition, haven’t lost in 16 meetings with the Filipinos in the last 46 years. The two sides have met eight times in the competition with the Thais winning seven of the eight. A goalless draw in the first leg of the 2014 semifinals in Manila was the Azkals' best result against the War Elephants in recent years.
While the Thais are in razor-sharp form in victories over Timor Leste (7-0) and Indonesia (4-2), the Filipinos have been far from convincing in wins over Singapore (1-0) and Timor Leste (3-2).
But Rajevac refused to read too much on the two team’s recent results. "It doesn’t necessarily mean anything if you look at the goal difference of the matches,” he said.
“Both teams are in the Asian Cup. Both teams are developing which means they want to play in a higher level in Asia. It’s a tough match and you know everybody will do everything in their power to get something out of this match. It will be a tight match and an interesting match.”
Rajevac admitted that playing at home gives the Philippines an advantage, although a heavy downpour is expected during the match as Tropical Depression Samuel makes landfall in the island.
“The advantage is for the Philippines because they know the environment,” he said. "They know the ground and this is probably their biggest advantage. But the team that is able to adapt quickly to the situation (when it rains) also has a great chance.”
The Serbian said his only edge over Eriksson could be his familiarity of the players in the Thai squad, having spent the last 18 months with the team, while the Swede has only been in the job for almost three weeks.
Eriksson is brimming with optimism although he knows the odds will be stacked on his travel-weary team.
"Thailand is the favorite to win this group,” he said. "I hope we can change that tomorrow. If we play good football, we have a good chance. We have to be positive."
Eriksson was far from satisfied by the performance against Timor Leste, although the first half display where the Azkals scored twice was something they can build on.
"We have to play better if we want to beat Thailand,” said Eriksson. “I'm confident that the players are focused for the big game."