Thailand will be aiming to cause an upset when they host China in Asia's opening round of World Cup 2026 qualifying fixtures on Thursday.
These two nations last met at the China Cup in March 2019, with Thailand running out 1-0 winners on that occasion.
A repeat of that scoreline would certainly set Thailand up nicely in Group C as they look to claim one of the top two spots to progress to the next stage of AFC qualifying.
With the next World Cup set to be expanded to 48 teams, Asia will have eight guaranteed qualification spots up for grabs, opening the door for nations such as Thailand to qualify for their first ever World Cup. South Korea will be expected to dominate Group C, making this clash on Thursday a potentially pivotal one.
The War Elephants have made decent progression since appointing Alexandre Polking as their manager in September 2021, with the former Bangkok United boss winning 20 of his 35 matches in charge. However, their form has been a little patchy of late, with Polking's side thrashed 8-0 by Georgia in a friendly last month before claiming a 1-1 draw against Estonia.
In order to earn a positive result against their gigantic neighbours on Thursday, they will need to perform much closer to their levels from the latter result than the former, otherwise they will be up against it from the outset.
Despite boasting the world's largest population and third-largest land mass, China have only ever qualified for one World Cup in their entire history, which was when they crashed out at the group stage in Japan & South Korea in 2002.
As such, they will be delighted by the additional slots on offer to compete in North America in less than three years' time, with head coach Aleksandar Jankovic likely to sense an opportunity that his side should not be passing up.
China's poor record in terms of reaching football's most prestigious tournament is made all the more surprising by the fact that they have reached each of the last 12 Asian Cups, although they have failed to lift Asia's major international tournament. Their best efforts have been finishing as runners-up in 1984 and 2004, so they will be hoping to impress in Qatar in the New Year.
In the meantime, though, they will be keen to make a strong start in World Cup qualifying by dispatching Thailand when they travel south of the border on Thursday. This will particularly be the case ahead of hosting group favourites South Korea next week, with Singapore likely to be the whipping boys of Group C.
Thailand have only called up one uncapped player in the form of goalkeeper Saranon Anuin, with the most notable absence from the squad arguably being midfielder Thitiphan Puangchan.
The hosts' goalscoring hopes will largely hinge on Teerasil Danga, who has scored 64 goals in 126 caps. As such, the 35-year-old is closing on Kiatisuk Senamuang's national record of 134 caps and 71 goals.
China, meanwhile, have their own stars closing on national records. Defender Zhang Linpeng could join the 100-capped club across the coming week as he is currently on 98 appearances for his country, while striker Wu Lei is only eight goals behind Hao Haidong's record of 39 goals for the Dragon's Team.
Interestingly, all of Jankovic's squad ply their domestic trade in the Chinese Super League, with Shanghai Shenhua's Wu Xi generally regarded as one of the nation's strongest performers.
Thailand possible starting lineup:
Pathomakkakul; Do, Praisuwan, Dolah, Laptrakul; Sukjitthammakul, Kaman; Promsrikaew, Pomphan, Phala; Burapha
China possible starting lineup:
Junling; L Zhang, Zhu, L Li; Xu, Wu, K Li, Liu; Y Zhang, W Lei, Shihao
We say: Thailand 1-2 China
Both teams will be hugely motivated to begin their qualifying campaigns with a victory, especially with South Korea likely to dominate Group C.
We expect to see a close game play out in Bangkok, but China should just about edge it in the end, in part due to their players competing at a higher level domestically.
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