Hopes rise again as Thailand draw in Iraq
Having seen his side battle to a hard-earned 1-1 away draw against Iraq - a result which makes Thailand's first Olympic appearance in almost four decades a wee bit more realistic - Under-23 team manager Kasem Jariyawat-wong has pleaded with Thai clubs to release their players early.
Kasem said the return match against the Middle Eastern side next month was vital to the team's qualification.
Thailand opened their 2008 Olympic campaign in the Group E qualifying round with the worst possible start - a woeful 1-0 home defeat to North Korea. The setback was believed to have severely dampened attempts to progress into the final qualifying round.
The Kingdom, however, bounced back in the next game by notching a 1-0 victory over India. And while the win was not impressive, given the nature of the opponents, it gave hope to coach Prapol Pongpanich's men.
Thailand's revival was vindicated on Wednesday night when they put up a committed performance to claim a valuable point from what was arguably a toughest test in their group campaign. Considering that Iraq were not the only test Prapol's side had to face - the desert conditions in Jordan's capital were also tough - a single point has similar significance to a victory, under those circumstances.
It is no surprise that, given the result, the Thai team is suddenly considering a chance of finishing in the top two. That would mean a berth in the final qualifying round.
Kasem said: "After we managed to claim a point from a tricky trip, the door appears to have opened wider for us to qualify for the next round. But we have to prepare the team as best as possible. So, I would like to urge the clubs to put the nation's interest first by allowing the lads to return to the training camp as soon as they finish their club duties, because we have only three weeks to prepare for a return tie against Iraq."
Thailand's task in the home match against Iraq, to be played on April 16, is made harder, as they will have to play without in-form striker Teeratep "Leesaw" Winothai.
The former Crystal Palace youth team player, whose strikes earned Thailand priceless points against India and Iraq, will serve a suspension after picking up his second yellow card.