Defensive masterclass despite Polking's attacking approach bodes well for Thailand's title chances

"Incredibly proud".

Those were Alexandre Polking's words of choice when asked to describe the emotion of watching his Thailand outfit see off defending champions Vietnam to book their place in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 final.

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But interestingly enough, for a team long associated with a entertaining, free-flowing style of play, under a coach known for advocating attack and enterprise, it was a resolute defensive display that had Polking beaming with pride.

With a 2-0 lead from the first leg of their semifinal clash, Thailand produced an indomitable display on Sunday against a Vietnamese side that had nothing to lose -- and certainly played like it.

Despite losing goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom to injury in the first half, and potentially for the remainder of the tournament, the War Elephants held firm with replacement custodian Siwarak Tedsungnoen an assured presence between the posts, while centre-backs Kritsada Kaman and Manuel Bihr -- reinforced with the addition of Elias Dolah in the second half -- were impassable.

"It happened exactly as we expected, with Vietnam ready to push very hard from the first minute," said Polking.

"We found ourselves in this storm and we knew we had to weather it together, because they had nothing to lose and were almost playing with five offensive players.

"We were losing some of those 50-50 challenges in the first half so we had to make adjustments at halftime to defend against those high balls. Elias did a fantastic job after coming in, allowing the other two centre-backs to be more comfortable, plus this man on my right (defensive midfielder and man-of-the-match Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul) is just a beast.

"I'm normally a very offensive-minded coach and sometimes words have been spoken against me that my teams don't defend well or that we only think about attacking.

"I never thought I'd say this but today I'm proud of how well we defended. It was a masterclass."

Leading Thailand's hunt for a record-extending 6th AFF crown, Polking deserves credit for displays his players have produced in the tournament thus far especially considering he only took over back in August, following the departure of predecessor Akira Nishino after a failed FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.

There is still one final hurdle to overcome before the Thais can reclaim their status as kings of Southeast Asian football.

Coming up against Indonesia in the final, Polking is aware that his charges could have to show more resilience against a cavalier and fearless opposition who will also play with freedom, considering they will head into the tie as the underdogs.

Yet, based on their most recent display, Thailand have reason to be confident.

For they are still a team brimming with attacking talent under a coach who will encourage them to display the full extent of their offensive capabilities. But also one who have now proven they can produce a defensive masterclass if necessary in order to get the job done.