Thailand's greatest player, Kiatisuk Senamuang, yesterday announced his retirement from international soccer after his country's fighting exit from the Asian Cup.
The striker, Southeast Asia's most recognized and influential soccer player, called an end to his 100-plus capped international career after his side's 4-0 defeat to star-studded Australia to bow out of the tournament.
Skipper Tawan Sripan and midfielder Therdsak Chaiman are also hanging up their boots, Thai TV reported.
Known as "Zico" for his silky skills, the scorer or more than 60 international goals missed two years of international soccer after a much-publicized bust-up with then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, now living in exile in Britain and the new owner of Manchester City, criticized the Thai team for "lacking heart" after a 4-1 home defeat to North Korea in a 2004 World Cup qualifier.
Kiatisuk fired back by asking publicly what Thaksin knew about soccer and there was no surprise when the striker's name was missing from the squad for the last Asian Cup in China in 2004.
"We did not want to lose that match, we played to win. We even cried in the changing room afterwards. The players needed a lift but then we heard what had been said [by Thaksin]," Kiatisuk said at the time.
Reports said Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont went into the team's room after Monday's loss to Australia and tried to convince Kiatisuk to stay on for next year's World Cup qualifiers.
But Kiatisuk confirmed it was his last game.
"We planned to substitute Kiatisuk but Teeratep Winothai had cramps and we decided to take him off and leave Kiatisuk on the field for the whole 90 minutes. Things didn't go as planned," coach Chanvit Polchovin said yesterday. "Kiatisuk put more than 100 percent into the game and you couldn't have asked for more from him."
Kiatisuk is revered in his homeland for his part in the team's 2-1 extra-time victory over South Korea in the quarter-final of the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.
He was also the first Thai to play full-time in England.