After holding out against Saudi Arabia, Thailand are proving tough to crack at Asian Cup

Introduced to the Thailand starting XI on Thursday with first-choice goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai rested, Saranon Anuin would seize his opportunity to impress against Saudi Arabia as he made a smart save to keep out a penalty from Abdullah Radif. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

For the first time ever, Thailand have completed a group-stage campaign at an AFC Asian Cup without tasting defeat.

They are also one of just two teams, along with hosts and defending champions Qatar, yet to concede at the ongoing edition of Asian football's premier tournament.

Now through to the knockout round, the War Elephants may not necessarily be favourites to win a game going forward -- but they are certainly proving extremely difficult to beat.

Especially after they ended their Group F campaign on Thursday evening with a battling 0-0 draw against one of the title contenders in Saudi Arabia.

For the second game running, Thailand were able to grind out a stalemate against tough West Asian opposition -- but the first did not exactly go down that well even though it earned them what was then a valuable point.

Fresh off an impressive opening 2-0 win over Kyrgyz Republic, there had been the possibility that Thailand would show similar endeavour against Oman in search of a victory -- especially given it was, on paper, the easier game ahead of a daunting group-stage finale against Saudi Arabia.

Instead, they were perfectly happy to sit back and showed little initiative in breaking forward, eventually showing much contentment at the final whistle with the point they had earned.

It would ultimately prove irrelevant as Oman's 1-1 draw with Kyrgyz Republic in the other Group F decider meant the Thais finished second with a comfortable three-point buffer and, besides, their progress to the round of 16 had already been confirmed by other results a day earlier.

But against more formidable opposition on Thursday, a similar plucky display that led to a goalless stalemate actually saw Thailand gain plenty of credit.

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that Saudi Arabia did opt to rest plenty of their regular starting XI.

Having said that, their lineup still boasted reigning AFC Player of the Year Salem Al-Dawsari, first-choice centre-back Ali Al-Bulaihi and livewire attacker Abdulrahman Ghareeb.

On the contrary, Thailand actually fielded an entire reserve team with none of their XI having started either of their previous two matches.

Yet, perhaps the more impressive aspect of the display was the fact that, while Saudi Arabia were indeed the dominant team, the War Elephants showed their fair share of attacking intent and even had the ball in the back of the net in a peculiar contest that had four goals disallowed.

What would have been especially pleasing for Thailand coach Masatada Ishii was several of his fringe players coming into the side and giving an excellent account of themselves.

Goalkeer Saranon Anuin produced a fine save to deny Abdullah Radif from the spot after just 12 minutes, Suphan Thongsong and Suphanan Bureerat were resolute in defence, while Worachit Kanitsribampen and Pathompol Charoenrattanapirom looked lively in the attacking areas.

Even Teerasak Poephimai, the youngest player in their squad at 21, led the line admirably as a lone striker.

Ishii is likely to revert to his tried-and-tested XI when Thailand take on Uzbekistan in the round of 16 on Tuesday, but he will certainly be heartened knowing he has options to call upon in reserve that have proven they can get the job done.

Clearly, against stronger opposition, the job is to stay resilient and hope the undeniable quality they have in attack -- in the form of Supachai Jaided, Suphanat Mueanta and Supachok Sarachat -- can make the most of whatever chances they create.

It may not be everyone's cup of tea but it is working well for the War Elephants thus far.

Entering a stage of the tournament now where there are no second chances and defeat means elimination, Thailand are proving quite difficult to beat.