Thailand get the point they wanted against Oman -- but will it prove enough for the Asian Cup knockout round?

Although they only just held out for a 0-0 draw against Oman on Sunday, the satisfaction Thailand showed at the final whistle suggested that they believe the point will be crucial in their quest to reach the 2023 AFC Asian Cup knockout round. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

After producing a fine display to beat Kyrgyz Republic 2-0 in their opening game at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, it was a different Thailand outfit that took to the field against Oman on Sunday.

If not in terms of personnel, then certainly in terms of mentality.

It may not have been for the better given the Thais, after shining so brightly five days earlier, found themselves under the back foot throughout the 90 minutes and lived life on the edge with a number as they survived a fair share of scares.

But for coach Masatada Ishii and his War Elephants, it was not necessarily for the worse either.

As they held out for a 0-0 draw against tough opposition, Thailand now have four points to their names ahead of a daunting final Group F clash with Saudi Arabia.

They are guaranteed a top-three finish in the group, in a tournament where the four best-performing third-placed teams also advance to the knockout round.

At the last Asian Cup in 2019, when this format was first introduced, only one third-placed team managed a four-point haul.

From the satisfaction etched on the faces of the players at the final whistle, even if they had not given the best account of themselves and the football they are capable of, it looked apparent that the Thais believe they have done enough to progress to the round of 16 -- even with a game on the horizon where they will head into as massive underdogs.

Perhaps Thailand's ambition in Friday's tie with Oman was best summed up shortly after the final whistle by centre-back Pansa Hemviboon, who stated: "We are so happy to get the one point."

The one point.

It may seem harsh to begrudge the War Elephants' conservative approach considering they were up against a team sitting 74th in the FIFA world rankings, 39 spots above their standing of 113th.

Yet, considering the strong start they had made to their campaign -- where they could and should have put more goals past Kyrgyz Republic -- and the fact that Oman are not exactly in the top echelon of Asian powerhouses such as Saudi Arabia, Japan or South Korea, perhaps Thailand could have shown more adventure.

That did seem to be on the cards in the build-up to the game when War Elephants defender Elias Dolah spoke about drawing inspiration from Iraq's almighty upset of Japan a few days ago.

Then again, maybe the point of the exercise was not just to get a point but also for Ishii to prepare his charges for a more-defensive game plan they are likely to deploy if and when they get to the knockout round, where the heavyweights will indeed be lying in wait.

In that aspect, there is still some work to be done.

Pansa produced an indomitable display in the heart of defence worthy of man-of-the-match honours as he came up with crucial interventions time and time again, while the towering Dolah also put in a commendable shift alongside him.

Goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai also largely looked steadfast when called upon and did have to make a handful of smart saves, but the worry for Ishii could come in the fact that it was individual displays rather than an overall perfectly-organised team showing that got them over the line.

On too many occasions, the War Elephants handed possession back to Oman immediately after they had expended plenty of energy to win it in the first place.

Although they did well to snap into challenges, the central midfield duo of Weerathep Pomphan and Peeradon Chamratsamee were barely able to hold on to possession -- having largely dictated proceedings against Krygyz Republic previously.

And when Thailand did manage to get the ball into the opposition half, the likes of Suphanat Mueanta, Bordin Phala and Supachok Sarachat too often found themselves as the only man forward, resulting in a quick recycle of possession for the Omanis.

In the end, they did complete the mission they had set for themselves but there will be plenty for Ishii to work on in the coming days on the training ground.

And only time will tell if the lack of ambition showed by the Thais against Oman was the right decision, and that the one point they toiled for on Sunday will be enough for a spot in the last 16.