Muang Thong United knocked out of Thai FA Cup by Chiang Rai United
Bangkok United and Chiang Rai United set up a winners-takes-all clash in the Thai FA Cup final, with a place in the AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifiers at stake, in addition to silverware.
As expected, Bangkok United saw off the semifinal challenge of fourth tier side JL Chiang Mai United, as a 3-0 win at Supachalasai Stadium sealed the club's first-ever cup final appearance.
There was more drama across the city at Rajamangala Stadium, with Chiang Rai clinching their first place in the final by defeating Muang Thong United on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
A Muang Thong victory would have almost sealed Thailand's third ACL spot for the Bangkok Angels as they sit in third spot in the Thai League (T1), nine points clear of fourth-placed Chiang Rai.
But the Beetles' victory over Muang Thong means that third spot in T1 will not be enough for an ACL place. Everything now rides on the cup final, with Buriram United and Muang Thong almost certain to take the top two places in T1.
Bangkok United gave a clinical performance over surprise semifinalists JL Chiang Mai United, opening the scoring through Pokklaw Anan after five minutes before Jayce John's stunning volley made it 2-0 before half-time.
Sumanya Purisai added a third for Mano Polking's side, who will hope to fare better if they qualify for next year's ACL after losing on penalties to Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim in the second preliminary round this year.
"We are very, very happy to reach the final for the first time in the club's history," Polking said. "As I said to my players, it doesn't matter how well you play football, in the end, we will always be judged by how much we can win.
"That's why an FA Cup and a place in the ACL would be an important next step for the club."
Chiang Rai stunned Muang Thong by taking a 2-0 lead, with excellent finishes from Suriya Singmui and Sivakorn Tiatrakul.
But Muang Thong fought back with goals from Charyl Chappuis -- his first for the club -- and Heberty Fernandes in the final 10 minutes.
After a goalless 30 minutes of extra-time, both sides missed three of their first five penalties in the shoot out.
Chatchai Budprom then saved Siroch Chatthong's kick in sudden death, leaving former Muang Thong United man Chaiyawat Buran to smash home his spot-kick and set up what promises to be a dramatic clash with Bangkok United in the final.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK