Thailand's depth comes to the fore as substitutes inspire victory over Malaysia at Southeast Asian Games

Thailand maintained their perfect record in Group B of the men's football tournament at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games on Saturday with a 2-0 victory over Malaysia. Football Association of Malaysia

In what is always a packed schedule in the men's football tournament at the Southeast Asian Games, with games often taking place just two days apart, a strong bench can be as important as a formidable first XI.

That proved to be the case with Thailand on Saturday as they picked up their second win in as many games at the 2023 edition of the Games in Phnom Penh, as their depth came to the fore with in a 2-0 triumph over Malaysia in Group B.

Just when it looked like they might struggle to break down a well-organised and disciplined Malaysia outfit, Anan Yodsangwal broke through to hand them the lead in the 73rd minute before fellow substitute Yotsakorn Burapha followed suit six minutes from time to secure a valuable three points in what has been described as the Group of Death.

Apart from the obvious fact that it proved to be match-winning introductions, the impact that Anan and Yotsakorn made also bodes well for Thailand and their prospects further down the road given the pace and energy they injected to an already-formidable starting lineup.

With Teerasak Poephimai leading the line and flanked by livewires Channarong Promsrikaew and Achitpol Keereerom while playmaker Purachet Thodsanit pulls the strings just behind, the Thais already boast an exciting attacking quartet that looks good enough to fire them to a record-extending 17th gold medal.

It was not as if they were performing badly against the Malaysians as they did look the likelier of the two teams to break the deadlock even in the first half of Saturday's tie at Visakha Stadium.

But there will always be occasions when the starters just cannot quite find the breakthrough.

That is exactly what the substitutes are there for, and those waiting in the wings for the Thais certainly did not disappoint.

Of course, Thailand did not exactly need to ring the changes on Saturday given they had sat out the previous round of games with the men's football tournament at the SEA Games boasting odd-numbered groups.

War Elephants coach Issara Sritaro did make one tweak to the XI he started with in their opening 3-1 triumph over Singapore and, in another illustration of the resources he had at his disposal, Bukkoree Lemdee was an excellent introduction at right-back.

The Customs United man defended doggedly all evening long and disrupted any impetus Malaysia tried to get going down their left flank, while also showing a penchant for the dark arts with some cynical fouls that led to tempers being frayed as the game wore on.

Despite the defeat, all is not lost for Malaysia as they were hardly outplayed against the Thais and gave a decent account of themselves.

Having beaten Laos in their campaign opener, the Malaysians' destiny is still in their own hands as they know wins over Vietnam and Singapore is likely to be enough to see them advance into the semifinals.

As they now look to bounce back with those two ties taking place over the next five days, Malaysia might also have to draw on their reserves to get them over the line.

For now, it is Thailand who have shown they might just have the squad -- not just the starting XI -- to go far at this SEA Games.