Thailand goalkeeper shines in front of Bundesliga legend Oliver Kahn

THAILAND’s journey at 2020 AFC U23 Championship: A new generation of WAR ELEPHANTS

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Buriram United goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen may have come under his fair share of criticism while representing Thailand at AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

On Sunday evening, in front of one of the all-time goalkeeping greats in Bayern Munich and Germany legend Oliver Kahn, Siwarak produced a brilliant display to help Buriram claim an important 1-0 triumph over title rivals Bangkok United.

Pedro Junior may have grabbed the headlines with his 84th-minute winner, as he latched onto Sasalak Haiprakhon’s searching pass and skipped past Peerapat Notchaiya and Sanrawat Dechmitr before drilling a shot beyond Michael Falkesgaard’s despairing dive.

However, Buriram might not even have ended the game with a point to show for their efforts had it not been for an unbeatable display from their 34-year-old custodian, who has found himself under scrutiny in recent times.

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At the end of last year, with Thailand missing regular No. 1 Kawin Thamsatchanan, Siwarak was given the nod as the War Elephants looked to defend their Suzuki Cup crown.

A series of unconvincing performances – highlighted by a soft goal conceded against Indonesia when he looked capable of saving Fachrudin Aryanto’s header before inexplicably pulling his hand away – saw him replaced by Chatchai Budprom.

Siwarak came under fire at last year’s Suzuki Cup.

Chatchai hardly fared any better as the Thais were eliminated in the semi-finals, and an embarrassing 4-1 loss to India in their Asian Cup opener in January then saw Siwarak reinstated as first-choice.

At the age of 34 but with only 16 caps to his name, Siwarak will never be mentioned in the same breath as Kawin or recently-retired Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool, but he has been an underrated yet consistent performer since joining Buriram in 2010, winning six Thai League 1 titles, four FA Cups and five League Cups along the way.

Photo credit: Bangkok United FC

On the contrary, the iconic figure who was watching on at True Stadium on Sunday hardly needs any introduction.

An eight-time Bundesliga winner who also won the UEFA Champions League in 2001 and helped Germany to the FIFA World Cup final the following year, Kahn was in Bangkok on a four-day visit organised by the Bundesliga.

With Kahn watching on, Siwarak must have been inspired to produce one of his best games in recent memory.

His first save of note came four minutes after halftime when he stood tall at his near post to keep out a firm effort from fellow Thailand international Tristan Do, and was generally steady when coming out to handle any aerial balls.

Nonetheless, it was immediately after Buriram had scored that Siwarak really came to the fore.

With four minutes left to play, the hosts threw on Mike Havenaar and the Japan international immeditely won a flick-on to find Nelson Bonilla, whose ferocious drive drew a fantastic save from Siwarak.

Then, deep into injury-time, Havenaar looked destined to score after being found a yard out from goal by Bonilla’s looping cross, but Siwarak made himself big and somehow prevented the goal-bound header from crossing the line to seal the win.