Bangkok: Teerasil Dangda and Sumanya Purisai scored the goals as defending champions Thailand advanced to the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2022 semi-finals as Group A winners after a 3-1 win over Cambodia at Thammasat Stadium on Monday.

After Cambodia had the better of the first-half chances, Teerasil’s penalty put the hosts in front just before the interval before Purisai made it 2-0 shortly after the restart.

Sieng Chanthea netted for the Cambodians midway through the second half but Teerasil’s double secured a 3-1 victory and pole position in the standings, ahead of Indonesia on goal difference.

Thailand began the game on top of Group A, marginally above Indonesia on goal difference and just a point ahead of Cambodia, meaning defeat could see them eliminated at the first hurdle for the first time since 2010. The Cambodians, meanwhile, were looking for the win that would see them create history by advancing to the semi-finals for the first time.

The War Elephants were in the unusual situation of leading the group but also knowing that if even if they won, Indonesia could potentially finish above them should they defeat the Philippines by a bigger margin in the simultaneous kick-off in Manila.

And head coach Alexandre Polking put out an attacking line-up with the AFF Championship’s all-time top scorer Teerasil and Adisak Kraisorn paired up front.

But, despite dominating the opening stages, they created little of note as Cambodia grew into the game and the visitors had an attempt on goal in the 25th minute when Reung Bunheing created space on the edge of the area before firing narrowly wide of Kittipong Phoothawchuek’s right post.

Cambodia had another chance 10 minutes before the interval when Chanthea broke forward with purpose and fed Lim Pisoth, who saw his goalbound effort from the left side of the area parried wide by Kittipong.

The visitors then should have gone in front five minutes later after Sos Suhana did superbly to make his way to the byline before cutting back to the unmarked Chanthea who blasted over from eight yards out.

But Thailand were then awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Sasalak Haiprakhon was upended in the box by Yeu Muslim and Teerasil powered home his record-extending 23rd goal in the AFF Championship and tournament-leading fourth of the 2022 edition.

Polking’s side doubled their advantage four minutes after the restart with substitute Sumanya poking home his first international goal after Sarach Yooyen’s neat threaded pass split the Cambodian defence.

With Indonesia two up after an hour against the Philippines, top spot remained firmly in the balance as Thailand poured forward looking to add to their tally, and Teerasil saw an effort touched onto the post by Keo Soksela midway through the half.

Then, just as it seemed Cambodia were out of it, they pulled one back when Sa Ty found Chanthea in the right side of the penalty area and he cut inside Kritsada Kaman and placed a left-footed effort beyond Kittipong to spark hope of a comeback.

Peeradon Chamratsamee powered an effort from distance just wide as the game entered its final 15 minutes with Thailand seeking to restore their two-goal advantage.

And, with a minute left on the clock, Teerasil wrapped up the three points – and top spot – with a fabulous strike when the ball broke to him on the edge of the area and he took a touch to get it out of his feet and fired an unstoppable drive beyond Soksela.

Thailand will next play the runners-up of Group B on Friday, with the first leg away from home before they return to Bangkok for the return meeting on Janaury 9.