A depressing record of two defeats in as many matches has left Thailand anchored to the foot of their FIFA World Cup™ preliminary section. Falling 4-1 to Japan in their Group 2 opener was no disgrace - nor was it a surprise - but the Thais had expected to bounce back from that predictably sluggish start when they hosted Oman in Bangkok.

Consequently, the 1-0 home defeat in March was a bitter pill to swallow for a team who had beaten the same opponents 2-0 at the same venue during the AFC Asian Cup last summer. This time, in front of some 40,000 spectators at Rajamangala National Stadium, the visitors took a unlikely lead just 26 seconds after the kick-off and held on for a historic win at the cost of ten yellow cards, two of which were administered to Talal Al Farsi, sent off just before the final whistle.

For the Thais, now at the third stage of Asian qualifying for South Africa 2010, it was the first home defeat of their preliminary campaign, and it has left them needing to win all four of their remaining games to keep their hopes alive. However, as Chanvit Phalajivin, the team's coach, insisted after the game, the Thais "still have a chance" and will "never give up."

"Theoretically we still have a chance to qualify if we beat Bahrain at home," said Chanvit. "But if we lose or draw, our chances will have gone."

That home match against group leaders Bahrain next month will certainly be crucial to Thailand's slim hopes of progressing to the next round. And if they manage to overcome the Gulf side twice in the first week of June - on Monday in Bangkok, then in Manama five days later - the Thais would find themselves in a better position in the battle for a place in the final round.

Familiar foes
However, that is something the Changsuk (War Elephants) failed to achieve in the same competition seven years ago. Thailand and Bahrain met twice in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for Korea/Japan 2002, and on both occasions the scoreline finished locked at 1-1.

It should, however, be pointed out that the Thais caused more problems for their opponents at home, especially considering that they were even down to ten men for the last quarter of an hour and were only robbed of victory by an equaliser three minutes into injury time.

In fact, Thailand have historically performed well in Bangkok, winning 145 times and drawing 48 in 266 games since 1959. More recently, before their unexpected defeat by Oman, the Thais had lost in their capital only twice - against the Netherlands and Australia last year - in 21 games over the previous 15 months.

Although hot and humid weather of early summer are unlikely to work an Bahrain side well used to such conditions, the passionate support from the denizens of Bangkok should intimidate any visitors to the Rajamangala.

It will be intriguing, therefore, to see if the Changsuk give those passionate supporters some hope of a FIFA World Cup reprieve when they host Asian champions Iraq for a warm-up match on 25 May, a week prior to that all-important crucial encounter with Bahrain.