Kuala Lumpur: Thailand's Rajamangala Stadium will be the setting for yet another crunch encounter on Thursday when the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualification campaign resumes with Group B leaders Saudi Arabia next up for the War Elephants in Bangkok. Ahead of the clash, The-AFC.com continues its series of profiles on Asia’s great grounds by taking a closer look at a venue that also hosted the inaugural AFC Champions League final in 2003.
Opened in 1998 ahead of the 13th Asian Games, Rajamangala Stadium is home to the Thailand national team and is the Southeast Asian country’s largest sporting venue. The atmospheric arena – located within the Huamark Sports Complex – boasts a capacity of 49,722 and was among the stadiums used at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.
The complex contains a 6,500-capacity indoor stadium, a swimming pool and numerous other sports facilities, while it is also home to many of Thailand’s sporting authorities and federations too. Away from football, the stadium is used for athletics meetings and music concerts, among other events, too.
Construction on Rajamangala Stadium began in 1988 to celebrate the King of Thailand’s 60th birthday in 1987. Initially opened with a capacity of 80,000, numbers were reduced ahead of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, when it staged all three of Thailand’s group games as well as eventual winners Iraq’s 2-0 quarter-final victory over Vietnam. Prior to that, one of the biggest matches held at the venue was the second leg of the first ever AFC Champions League final between Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana and Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in October 2003.
In 2014 Rajamangala Stadium staged the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final between Thailand and Malaysia, which the hosts won 2-0 before lifting the regional championship following a 3-2 defeat in Kuala Lumpur three days later. Last year, a capacity crowd witnessed Thailand overcome Indonesia 2-0 to retain their crown, and Southeast Asian dominance, by winning a record fifth title. Also in 2016, the War Elephants gained their first point in the third round of FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifying after a commendable 2-2 draw with Australia at the national stadium.
A Match to Remember
As far as most significant matches go, the second leg of the 2002-03 AFC Champions League final is hard to beat. The launch of the revamped continental competition in 2002 heralded a new beginning for Asian club football after the amalgamation of the Asian Club Championship, Asian Cup Winners’ Cup and Asian Super Cup.
Bangkok-based BEC Tero Sasana advanced all the way to the final before a 2-0 defeat to Al Ain in the first leg in the United Arab Emirates left them with a mountain to climb in Bangkok. After a goalless first half at Rajamangala Stadium, Therdsak Chaiman’s penalty on the hour gave the home side hope, but it was not to be as the Emiratis were crowned inaugural AFC Champions League winners.
Photo: Lagardère Sports