Let’s take a breath from the tornado that encompassed the sports world yesterday. Surely you were brought to the edge of pure elation or utter agony over: Game 7 between the Clippers and Spurs, the NHL playoffs, the Red Sox playing the Yankees, the NFL Draft, the Kentucky Derby, or of course, the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.
Let’s talk about why you should root for Thailand in the upcoming Women’s soccer World Cup.
1.) They’re the Ultimate Party Crashers
Here’s the thing: Thailand isn’t even supposed to be in the World Cup. For the first time in the tournament’s 24-year history, the field is expanding from 16 to 24. The Asian teams were supposed to be set. They were the usual suspects: Japan (always a favorite), China (who has a storied history in the tournament), Australia (can never count them out) and both South and North Korea. Those teams were pretty much penciled in for this year’s tournament after the 2011 World Cup. But after five of its players tested positive for steroids, North Korea was banned from competing in 2016. North Korea didn’t go down without a fight, though. The steroids weren’t used to cheat, according to some North Korean officials, but to treat the aforementioned five players after they were all struck by lightning during a practice. Even though that sounds completely plausible, FIFA didn’t buy it.
So, that left the door open for another Asian team. It should have been Vietnam. Vietnam and Thailand vied for a World Cup berth back in May of last year. The 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup game was played in Vietnam in front of 18,000 rowdy, hostile fans. Thailand had never beaten Vietnam before, and with all the odds stacked against it, the Thais managed to pull off a 2-1 victory to earn a trip to Canada.
Thailand’s road to the World Cup has been a serendipitous one. When luck just seems to grace a team like this, there’s no knowing what it will run out.
2.) They’re the Ultimate Underdogs
OK, maybe that luck runs out, like, now. Even though Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Spain AND Switzerland are also newcomers to the tournament, it’s Thailand who is considered the weakest in the field of 24.
Just recently, they were blown out 0-7 by Norway, who is in Thailand’s initial group. It’s scary to think what will happen when the Thais meet Germany, one of this year’s front-runners. Though it’s very possible that Thailand loses multiple games by double-digits, you gotta love a team who’s just happy to be invited to the party.
“It’s already beyond overwhelming to have the chance to participate in the World Cup,” said Thailand striker Kanjana Sung-Ngoen. “We will do our best without pressuring ourselves too hard.”
3.) They’re making history
It’s not often that Thailand makes it to this stage of international play. Thailand has never been represented in the men’s World Cup and was only present twice in the Olympics (1956 and 1968). During both appearances, Thailand was outscored by a total of 28-1. This kind of attention for female athletes in Thailand has the potential to do real change in bringing gender equality to a still male-dominated culture.
“Women can do so many great things, and I am proud to be a part of this achievement that brings joy to Thailand,” said Nualphan Lamsam, manager of Thailand’s women’s national team, “It is heartwarming to see how the fans welcomed our team when we came back, and how other sporting heroines are so praised by the public.”
Players like Tannekam Danga, sister of one of the Thailand’s biggest male soccer stars Teerasil Danga, and Kanjana Sung-Ngeon are giving girls in Thailand their own Mia Hamm or Abby Wambach.
Sung-Ngeon was the striker who scored both goals in Thailand’s World Cup berth-clinching win over Vietnam. The 28-year-old striker has dedicated her life to the game, leaving her family in her hometown of Surin province to train in Bangkok. Her whole life has revolved around soccer, and that has led her to be one of the go-to players for Thailand. She is dynamic and powerful, so much so that the Japanese women’s national team accused her of being a man and requested proof that she wasn’t. She proved her gender and if anything, the possible insult turned into a what should be a point of pride for the striker: that you can be as strong and fast as a man, but play like a girl.
MAGGIE THACH | @magsthach
Sports. Writing. I’ve never been a natural at either, but I love them both. I’m happy to be joining these two loves at Dat Winning. I received my MFA in creative nonfiction in 2013 and I play in an over-30 women’s basketball league. We are currently 9-3.