2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

Bunmathan: 'Zico' can take Thailand through

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A defender can be renowned for attacking. Perhaps one of the the most notable examples is former Arsenal and England star Ashley Cole, a player praised by Arsene Wenger as "a defender who simply loves to attack."

Of course, the UEFA Champions League-winner and three-time English Premier League champion is not alone as a host of world-class defenders have gained similar reputations largely for their attacking flair. To name a few, right-back Carlos Alberto skippered Brazil to the 1970 FIFA World Cup™ before compatriot Roberto Carlos did the same on the other flank in 2002. And who can ignore Philipp Lahm, the dynamic former Germany captain who rounded off his illustrious international career by clinching the world championship at Brazil 2014.

All these icons have impressed the watching world through their offensive play in addition to carrying out their defensive duties. While it may seem somewhat futile to argue which of them is the best attacking-minded defender, Thailand captain Theerathon Bunmathan has singled out Cole as the player who has been his inspiration as he has developed into one of Asia's best. 

"Ashley Cole is my idol," the 25-year-old Thailand and Buriram United defender toldFIFA.com in an exclusive interview, "he plays the same position like me and he is the world's best left-back."

Emergence on the Asian scene
Few in Asia can, indeed, debate against Bunmathan who has been hailed as one of the continent's best defenders following his outstanding performances with both club and country. He exploded onto the Asian scene by helping Buriram to the last eight in the 2013 AFC Champions League, an achievement which saw him voted into that year's tournament best XI. 

He continued to excel in this year's campaign, proving the team's corner-stone and scoring twice only to see his side narrowly miss out a place in the knockout stage. Despite the team's near-miss, Bunmathan's eye-catching individual performances didn't go unnoticed as he again reached the tournament's best XI of the group phase. 

"(As a defender) my strengths are my attacking plays," said Bunmathan, who equalised through a sublimely-taken free-kick in a 1-1 draw at Gamba Osaka before opening the scoring direct from a corner-kick in the return although Buriram lost 2-1. "But I have to improve in many areas if I am to become a better player." 

"I am pretty satisfied with my performances," he continued, "I think I have improved much in dealing with set-pieces particularly. I am glad that I was again in the AFC Champions League best-eleven (after the group stage)."

He is a coach of discipline both on and off the field.

Bunmathan and Co. were undefeated as they led the group after the opening three games but their hopeful campaign was undermined after back-to-back losses to Gamba and Seongnam FC. Both of those sides were level with Buriram on points but progressed at their expense courtesy of their better head-to-head records.

"There were no one to blame but ourselves," he reflected, "because we were on the verge of progression after four matches. We had wasted too many chances. But it was a very good experience for me to play in the Asian competition. We have rubbed shoulders with good players from both Japan and Korea Republic. So I can keep improving and make progress." 

Thriving under coach "Zico"With Asia's qualifying for Russia 2018 already underway, it is no surprise that Bunmathan is keen on translating his brilliant club form on to the international stage as Thailand seek a breakthrough in a group which also features Iraq, Chinese Taipei and Vietnam. His ambitions have already partially materialised as he skippered his side to a spirited 1-0 opening victory against the Vietnamese at home. 

Thailand sprang a series of surprises on the road to Brazil 2014, thrashing Oman 3-0 before holding Saudi Arabia to a goalless draw as they got off to a good start. But their momentum did not last long as they were found wanting in the latter stages and bowed out. But under the stewardship of legendary former player Kiatisuk Senamuang, nicknamed 'Zico', the team have impressed with a series of much-improved performances. Notably, they defeated China PR 5-1 in a friendly and re-captured the regional title in last year's AFF Championship in emphatic fashion. 

"He (Senamuang) is a coach of discipline both on and off the field," Bunmathan sang praises for the country's all-time goal-scoring great, "the team are going in the right direction under his guidance. He understands the players and has great psychological tactics. He is the legend in Thai football from whom everyone of the team can draw inspiration." 

"Thanks to the coach's trust I am the team's captain. It means I have greater responsibility on my shoulders," he said, looking ahead to the forthcoming qualifier in Chinese Taipei on 16 June, "We are well prepared for the competition. I believe that the coach can take us to next round."

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