While finishing at the top of their game is what Thailand's futsal players hope to achieve at the Fifa Futsal World Cup, their secret desire _ according to Sutthiphan Wanwinwes, the team's deputy manager _ is to see this sporting event, being held for the first time on home turf, uniting Thais of all political affiliations and colours.
"I believe sports can heal and bring together a fragmented society," he said during a recent telephone interview. "People will forget what colour they have pledged their allegiance to when they unite under a single Thai flag to show their support for the local boys. Sporting accolades are important, of course, but national unity is something we all have to strive to attain."
The home team is determined to put on a good show for all those who have supported them over the years, he continued. The delay in finishing construction of the Bangkok Futsal Arena was a great disappointment, Sutthiphan conceded, but it is not the only venue for the tournament and his players are hoping that grabbing a few victories early on will put a smile back on fans' faces.
He is keeping his fingers crossed that having the home advantage will break what he describes as a "jinx" on the national futsal team which hasn't managed to progress beyond the first round in its past three Futsal World Cup appearances. What the current team has going for it is consistently good form, he said, pointing to a string of successes over the past few years, both at the Asian and the international level, including a 5-3 win against the United States in Brazil four years ago.
The present Thai line-up is a good mix of young and older talent, Sutthiphan went on, with 23-year-old striker Suphawut Thueanklang now spearheading the offence. He is the only member of the current team to have played at World Cup level. The deputy manager said his players have been putting their hearts and souls into training sessions and despite suffering three defeats in a recent five-team warm-up tournament his boys are confident they can give their opponents a run for their money. Getting past the likes of Ukraine and Paraguay would be a great start, he added.
The national futsal team, which is currently listed in 14th place in the world rankings, is being coached by Victor Hermans, a Dutch national with years of international coaching experience under his belt. Hermans has done a great job with the boys, Sutthiphan enthused, passing on both technical and practical know-how on how they can become top-class performers on the pitch.
Staging the Futsal World Cup here will also be great exposure for this fast-paced sport and should help boost its development in these parts, Sutthiphan observed, adding that national TV coverage should help bring the action to families who can't make it to the stadium. And, since most of Thailand's matches are scheduled to be held in the evening, there's a possibility that the new stadium might not be as full as expected.
"Thai futsal has progressed in leaps and bounds over the years," he said, "but for it to reach truly world-class standards, a lot more will have to be done.
"A fat salary doesn't always cut it. Professional players also need clear direction to enable them to take their careers to the next level. And for that, one requires the services of paid professionals, not just volunteers, to run the show.
"Secondly, at the national level, we have to have vision which, in turn, will help players feel a greater sense of stability. And last, but not least, to obtain a greater competitive edge over opponents our players require as much international exposure as they can get in order to build up the self-confidence they will need to compete against the best in the world.
"No matter how well the Thai team performs this time around, it is my earnest wish that the futsal officials who are responsible for making the big decisions will address each of the issues I have mentioned so that our players will have the chance of a better tomorrow."
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- Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert