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Five years after 13-0 World Cup mauling, Thai women look to future

By AFP

May 15, 2024 12:30 PM


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Thai women's goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying will never forget her World Cup debut five years ago -- a record 13-0 defeat to the USA.

FIFA meet in Bangkok on Friday to name the 2027 Women's World Cup hosts -- reviving painful memories for Sukanya and captain Kanjana Sungngoen who have turned their 2019 nightmare into inspiration for the future.

Sukanya, now 36 and teaching sport at a Bangkok university, said she wept all the way back to the team hotel after the 2019 mauling in France.

"We were so ready to play against them. We truly believed that we'd put up a hard game for them," she told AFP.

Instead Sukyana was on the receiving end as Megan Rapinoe's all-conquering US team inflicted the biggest defeat in a World Cup finals match, men's or women's.

"I couldn't accept it," Sukanya admitted.

"I used to refuse to watch any clips from that game for years. I didn't talk to my family about it at all."

A respectable 3-0 defeat in a warm-up against hosts France gave Thailand some confidence going into their opening match against the defending champions.

At half-time they were 3-0 down in Reims, but worse was to come as the USA ran riot with 10 second-half goals to set them on their way to lifting the trophy for a fourth time.

"You know what made me really sad about it? It's that I knew everyone was watching back home," Sukanya said, fighting back tears.

"That day we were heartbroken that we had disappointed the Thai people."

Sukanya and her teammates came in for cruel mockery online in the wake of the defeat.

But there was also fierce criticism of the Americans for their treatment of Thailand, who were making only their second appearance at the World Cup proper.

- 'Wake-up call' -

Some pundits and fans said the wild celebrations of the Americans after their later goals were crass and unsporting.

The US players stood by their behaviour and Thai skipper Kanjana insisted she had no complaints.

"I think if they went easy on us, that is far more disrespectful," Kanjana, who scored Thailand's only goal in the tournament, told AFP.

"To not hold back, that's the way of professional football."

The 37-year-old, now a player-coach at Bangkok FC, said the USA defeat was a "wake-up call" for the women's game in Thailand.

"We realised that we had to put as much effort into development as them to be at the same level," she said.

"At the time, being a professional footballer wasn't a career."

Kanjana said the Thai women's game was better structured and run more efficiently now, but a shortage of top clubs means the first division season lasts only a few weeks.

Teams have to contend with poor facilities and a men's game that grabs most of the attention.

- 'It was an inspiration' -

Nuengrutai Srathongvian, the national coach in 2019, told AFP: "Many people don't know about women's football... so we could provide more information."

Kanjana has hopes for the future after the election in February of the Thai FA's first woman president, insurance tycoon Nualphan Lamsam.

Nualphan has set a target of qualifying for the 2027 Women's World Cup.

FIFA's Congress in Bangkok on Friday will choose the hosts which will be either Brazil or a joint bid from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Sukanya, now retired from playing, will be watching and hopes the current team can draw on the lessons of 2019 as they chase qualification.

After the 13-0 defeat, American Carli Lloyd, one of the greatest women's players of all time, was among the first to console the Thai players.

"She told me to keep going and not quit. That made me feel really good," Sukanya said.

"It was an inspiration, but not for me to keep playing. Instead I thought 'I couldn't beat you today, so I will go back and train our young players so they can'."

And the pride of having represented her country at a World Cup still burns bright.

"Just to have played there against the best in the world -- I can talk about it until I die," she said.


AFP


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