For Thailand, who were beaten by a record World Cup margin in their first group game against USA, a consolation in the 5-1 loss to Sweden felt like redemption.
The emotion was written all over the players’ faces as captain Kanjana Sung-Ngoen was mobbed by her team-mates and sent the boisterous collection of Thai fans wild with her 91st-minute strike.
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The coaching staff on the sidelines were in tears, neutrals in the stands cheered and even Sweden fans applauded. The will for Thailand to celebrate after their humiliation by the world’s number one team was universal.
“The goal made us laugh, made us smile and makes us happy,” said manager Nuengrutai Srathongvian. “It was a difficult goal to score and, playing a great team like Sweden, it meant so much.
“It meant that all of our preparation paid off. Our defeat in the last game was massive. Yes, we were disappointed, but even if we scored one today we had some success.”
Unlike Argentina, who celebrated their first World Cup point in their opening group game against 2011 champions Japan, Thailand already have a tournament victory under their belts – a 3-2 win over Ivory Coast four years ago.
But Sung-Ngoen’s strike was historic in itself. It was the first time they had scored a World Cup goal against a team ranked higher than them.
‘Thailand showed their true style’
Thailand scoring a goal seemed a distant possibility after they were thumped by a ruthless US team, who were criticised by some for celebrating some of the goals too wildly after the game became a rout.
In the days since, the Thailand side received a flood of messages from their homeland, according to journalist Wootinon Boonwanit. “The message to the team has been: stay strong.”
Losing to the US had been expected. Thailand are ranked 34th in the world and have a developing team. At the previous World Cup in 2015, there were only 1,000 registered female players in the country and the domestic league was abandoned for 14 months in 2017.
But fourth place at the 2018 Asian Cup was their best performance since 1986 – earning their World Cup place in France – and they have since been helped by the appointment of Dutch coach Vera Pauw, who has also coached Scotland, as their technical advisor.
“We knew there would be a gap against the US,” said journalist Krisana Payung. “They have talent all over their squad, but we only have one who can match that level: Sung-Ngoen.
“They were more relaxed than the first game, because that’s always really hard. Against Sweden we played more in a Thailand style.”
Srathongvian said: “The players weren’t scared to play today.”
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While turning a 13-0 defeat into a 5-1 loss may seem like a small step in the right direction, there is still an outside chance that if Thailand win their last game against Chile they could qualify as one of four best third-placed teams.
Chile only lost 3-0 to the US on Sunday, despite being ranked only five places above Thailand,
For now, Srathongvian has a more modest target: “Chile will be difficult but getting a point at this World Cup is what we want to do.”