Vice-captain Chalermpong Kerdkaew says Thailand are more motivated than ever heading into the AFC Asian Cup, which starts in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
The 32-year-old defender is pumped up about playing for the first time in the continent’s biggest football tournament, which will also feature regional heavyweights Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia.
“Every team is stronger than we are in this tournament,” said the Nakhon Ratchasima FC’s player, who skippered the national side at last month’s AFF Suzuki Cup.
“But we have no fear. On the contrary, we are hungrier to compete and try to win. We want to see what level we are at in Asia.”
Thailand are currently training in Abu Dhabi and will launch their campaign in Group A against India on Sunday.
Chalermpong believes the War Elephants can survive the group stage, which also includes Bahrain and hosts UAE, if they play to the best of their ability.
“The tournament is a tough test for us,” added the man from Lop Buri province. “But if we can stick to the tactics of the coach [Milovan Rajevac] and play decent games, we can reach the round of 16.”
Chalermpong’s confidence is partly due to the return of the “three musketeers” – Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerasil Dangda (captain) and Teerathon Bunmathan (vice captain) – after they had to skip the AFF event due to their J-League commitments.
“There is a great deal of change in terms of the players. Having those three players from the J-League will make us stronger. We are trying to adjusting ourselves to make the most well-organised team ever,” added Chalermpong.
“What we need to do now is to focus on ourselves, not worry about the other teams. As long as we are best prepared, it will be easier for us once we are on the pitch.”
Thailand will have their final warm-up, a game against Oman behind closed doors on Wednesday before embarking on their first Asian Cup campaign in 12 years on Sunday.
The top two countries from each of the six groups, plus the four best third-placed teams, will make it into the round of 16.