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Thai fans had plenty to celebrate on the pitch

26 ธันวาคม 2557, 23:00 น.
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Thai fans had plenty to celebrate on the pitch

Football put the smiles back on Thais' faces this year with a World Cup berth, a record-equalling run at the Asian Games and a long-awaited Asean title.

The Thai women secured the country's first ever World Cup spot at the full international level by finishing fifth at the Women's AFC Cup behind champions Japan, Australia, China and South Korea.

The quintet will represent Asia at the 2015 Fifa Women's World Cup in Canada.

The Thai U23 side finished fourth at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, matching the Kingdom's previous best record in the quadrennial event in 1990, 1998 and 2002.

The national side defeated Malaysia 4-3 on aggregate in the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup (Asean championship) to end a 12-year title drought in the biennial tournament.

Thailand have now won the Asean title four times, along with Singapore.

The Thai women sealed the country's first ever World Cup spot at the senior level thanks in part to an increase in the number of finalists from 16 to 24.

With that, Asia, which previously received three finals slots, got five berths for the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Thailand's task became easier as North Korea, an Asian powerhouse in women's football, was banned from taking part in the 2015 World Cup.

The Women's Asian Cup in Vietnam, Thailand suffered two heavy defeats — 7-0 against China and 4-0 against South Korea — and beat Myanmar 2-1 in the first round.

In the fifth-place play-off, Thailand stunned hosts Vietnam 2-1 with Kanjana Sung-ngoen scoring both goals to earn a ticket to Canada.

But the Thais will have a formidable assignment in Canada as they will face former world champions Germany and Norway and Ivory Coast in the first round of the June 6-July 5 tournament.

"We are ready for the challenge and we must be well-prepared physically and mentally,'' said Thailand manager Nuanphan Lamsam.

The Thai U23 side, coached by Kiatisak Senamuang, came close to winning the country's first ever football medal at the Asian Games.

Thailand comfortably beat the Maldives, Indonesia and Timor Leste in the first round.

The Thais beat China 2-0 in the last 16 and defeated Jordan by the same scoreline to get a daunting task against hosts South Korea in the semi-finals.

Thailand lost 2-0 to South Korea, who went on to win the title, and finished fourth after losing 1-0 to Iraq in the third-place play-off.

Although they finished empty-handed, they got about 14 million baht in bonuses from the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) and sponsors.

Thailand previously reached the Asian Games semi-finals in 1990, 1998 and 2002.

Kiatisak was appointed coach of the full national team after the Asian Games and just weeks before the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Kiatisak, who won three Asean titles as a player, vowed to win back the Suzuki Cup and he did it.

The 41-year-old coach was criticised when he announced his squad for the Suzuki Cup as he picked a large number of his players from the Asian Games team and axed some veterans including Datsakorn Thonglao.

Several young players shone brightly at the Suzuki Cup including Charyl Chappuis, 22, Chanathip 'Messi J' Songkrasin, 21, and Adisak Kraisorn, 23, who scored five goals at the Incheon Asian Games.

In the group stage, Thailand beat hosts Singapore 2-1, came from behind twice to defeat Malaysia 3-2 and finished off Myanmar 2-0.

They were held to a scoreless draw by the Philippines in the semi-final first leg in Manila and comfortably won 3-0 in the second leg in Bangkok to set up a showdown with Malaysia.

In the first leg of the final at Rajamangala National Stadium, Thailand beat Malaysia 2-0 thanks to late goals by Chappuis and Kroekrit Thaweekarn.

In the second leg at the 90,000-seat Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia looked set to break Thai hearts when the Tigers led 3-0 inside the first hour to lead 3-2 on aggregate.

But Chappuis' strike after 82 minutes and Chanathip's long-range shot with four minutes to go handed the War Elephants their first Asean title in 12 years.

Kiatisak became the first man to win the Asean crown both as a coach and a player.

It was revealed after the match that His Majesty the King was watching the deciding match and told his aide to phone the team to give them moral support at half-time when Thailand were trailing 2-0.

The team received a hero's welcome when they returned with the trophy. Thousands of well-wishers greeted the team on an open-top, double-deck bus in a parade from Don Mueang airport to Supachalasai Stadium.

The title was perhaps the most expensive in Thailand's footballing history as the team has received more than 40 million baht in rewards from the government and sponsors, apart from the US$200,000 (about six million baht) prize money.

With the win, FAT president Worawi Makudi announced that it was possible for Thailand to secure their first ever World Cup berth at the 2018 finals in Russia.

He said the team would get about 300 million baht in bonus if they reach the 2018 World Cup.

But Kiatisak was cautious about Thailand's chance saying the 2018 tournament was too early for his young team.

"They are about 21-22 years old on average and may need four to six years to become stronger,'' said the 41-year-old coach.

Worawi also promised to give the U23 team 100 million baht in bonus if they earn a spot at the 2016 Olympics.

But while Worawi was delighted by the Suzuki Cup triumph, he is reportedly under investigation in the World Cup scandal.

Fifa executive, of which Worawi is a member, agreed recently to publish the report into alleged corruption surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter said the report would be published in an appropriate form once the ongoing procedures against individuals are concluded.

The names of the officials facing action have not been released but British and German media have named them as Worawi, Angel Villar Llona of Spain and Michel D'Hooghe of Belgium.

A British newspaper claimed that a gas deal between Qatar and Thailand's PTT energy firm was struck before Qatar was selected as host of the 2018 World Cup.

Worawi, an eligible voter, insisted he was innocent and vowed to sue those who made groundless allegations against him.

Buriram United retained the Thai Premier League title on the last day of the season beating Chonburi by three points.

Samut Songkram, Air Force, Songkhla United, PTT Rayong and Police United were relegated to League One, while Nakhon Ratchasima, Saraburi and Navy gained promotions to the top flight.

Chonburi also finished second in the FA Cup after losing 1-0 to Bangkok Glass in the final.

In the League Cup final, BEC Tero Sasana, led by Chanathip, beat Buriram 2-0.

But Thai football was hit by a mass brawl between fans of fierce rivals SCG Muang Thong United and Singhtarua after a TPL match at SCG Stadium.

The match itself, won 1-0 by the home team, was smooth but the fans clashed outside the stadium for hours after the match.

Both teams were deducted nine points, a punishment which almost cost Singhtarua a place in the TPL.



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