Thailand confident of breakthrough success in futsal

World Cup kicks off on Thursday

Thailand is hoping to write a new chapter in its futsal history by reaching the World Cup knockout stages for the first time at the 2012 finals.

Thailand coach Victor Hermans.

The Thais have played in three finals but not yet been able to get past the group phrase. With the Nov 1-18 finals to be held on home soil, they have reason to believe that they will enjoy their most successful World Cup.

There have been changes to Thai futsal since last year with Thirachai Wutthitham replacing Adisak Benjasiriwan as the country's futsal chief and national team manager.

Adisak, who almost singlehandedly pushed the national team to another level, was sacked by Worawi Makudi after he was re-elected as president of the Football Association of Thailand last year.

Worawi had to part company with Adisak because he backed another candidate in the election.

Jose Maria Mendez 'Pulpis', who is close to Adisak, then quit as head coach of the national team which is now coahced by Dutchman Victor Hermans.

Suphawut Thueanklang, right, is Thailand’s lethal striker; below, a fan poses with the giant mascot in Nakhon Ratchasima yest

The squad now features a host of talented young players breaking into the national team to fill the void left by some stalwarts. Leading the team is 22-year-old striker Suphawut Thueanklang.

Under Hermans, Thailand defied all the odds to shock Asian powerhouses Iran 5-4 after extra time in the semi-finals of this year's Asian championship. The Thais then lost to Japan in the final.

It was Thailand's best result in the continental tournament.

"Our goal is to reach the quarter-finals at the World Cup on our home soil," Thailand manager Suttipun Wanwinwes said.

Suphawut said: "I will try my best to score goals for the team. We have a high chance of reaching the second round because we will be playing at home. The crowds will support us."

Suphawut Thueanklang, right, is Thailand’s lethal striker; below, a fan poses with the giant mascot in Nakhon Ratchasima yesterday.

"He is a brilliant player," Hermans said of his striker. "I am surprised that he is not playing in Europe. It is great that the World Cup offers him and our other players a chance to showcase their talents in front of the watching world."

Shortly after taking up Thailand's reins in March, Hermans became confident of leading Thailand to a historic breakthrough at the World Cup.

"When I first met my players and staff, I asked them what they wanted to achieve," he said. "The answers were clear: to win the AFC Futsal Championship, and to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup."

However, the team's preparations for the World Cup were less than convincing and Hermans has a lot to do before the kick-off on Nov 1.

At last week's five-team warm-up tournament in Bangkok, Thailand had only one win against Egypt and three defeats against Australia, Solomon Islands and Panama. The Dutch coach was upset by his men's performances.

"I am very disappointed. Our defence was very poor," he said after losing to Solomon Islands.

At the World Cup to be held in Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima, the Thais are in Group A with Costa Rica, Ukraine and Paraguay.

They will open their campaign against Cosca Rica at Hua Mark Indoor Stadium on Nov 1.

THAILAND SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Prakit Dankhunthod, Surapong Tompa

Defenders: Konghla Lakka, Natee Jeepon, Piyapan Ratana

Midfielders: Jirawat Sornvichian, Thananchai Chomboon, Kritsada Wongkaeo, Apiwat Chaemcharoen, Nattavut Madyalan, Keattiyot Chalaemkhet

Forwards: Jetsada Chudech, Suphawut Thueanklang, Aref Ahamah

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Writer: Tor Chittinand
Position: Reporter