Thailand win attention if not the match v the United States

15 Jun

It was a magical day back in 2015 when Thailand, on their Women’s World Cup debut, pulled off a 3-2 win over fellow debutants Ivory Coast. Their celebration was rapturous. The fan celebration was immense. It was a great day, a monumental day. But that was four years ago; why am I talking about it now?

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I say this for all of you slagging off on Thailand as being inferior and unskilled and unmoneyed and “less than” your favourite teams and players. Thailand can win. They do win. That is, unless you think wins by and skills shown by Asian and African nations are “less than” other nations in general. You’re not thinking that though. Right? You’re not dumping your ill-informed, western-privileged myopic takes on this team and on this match, are you?

If you are – leave. Leave now. Leave right now. Don’t ever come back.

Thailand are familiar with high scoring games and the emotional and psychological impacts such results have on a team and its players. When Thailand and the United States first and last met a few years ago the result was 9-0. That’s the largest deficit they’d occurred in a match until this tournament. If you went into this match thinking there’d be a wild downswing from that result you’ve clearly not been paying attention.

But Thailand have dealt out a few of their own high scores the past couple of years. They themselves trounced Indonesia 13-0 last year in a friendly. This number is not unfamiliar. Interestingly, they only won by only a 3-0 margin v the same team a couple days later. A wide swinging pendulum Thailand are when it comes to football results.

The New York Times wrote a nice enough background piece on Thailand prior to this match. They have money! They have ambition! They have fans! They have support! The NYT then wrote a rose-coloured bully defense the day after the match. The “see, they’re okay with it” cultural-spin approach will never work with me.

It is true though that Thailand came into this match at an disadvantage on numerous fronts. Yes, we all agree. The ones I’m most interested in however are their confidence and their self-esteem. They know they lack both especially against higher ranked teams. This self-awareness is critical to their strength as a team and they’ll use it to their advantage as they regroup. They are strong in ways people aren’t noticing or are not wanting to notice. It’s the “softer side” of competitive sports that sounds good when you’re plumping up a team or writing a profile like the NYT above but gets ignored and shit on when you’re presented with quick and dirty opportunities to punch down.

And make no mistake. Much of the commenting during and after this match was all about punching down. On Thailand. On the Thailand players. On FIFA. On the US players. On the goals. On the fans. Hell, there was punching down happening right on the pitch showing a desperate yet right on-brand lack of situational awareness by the US team. You can be critical and respectful; they’re not mutually exclusive. You can be celebratory and empathetic; again, not mutually exclusive.

Punching down so you can feel good about a result or a team or a player is weak and petty and disillusioned. Presenting personal justifications for doing so as an equality issue is obtuse. Punching down has to do with asserting power and feeling powerful over someone else. That’s it at base. Have at it if that’s what rocks your boat. I want no part of any of it, and there’s no place for any of it here. Thank you.


Pre-match festivities

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Match overview

Thailand
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United States
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Location: Stade Auguste-Delaune, Reims
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Referee: Laura Fortunato (Argentina)

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Match details

The US scored some goals. Thailand tried too.

I’m energy-deficient so you can read all about the details over at The Guardian. Here’s a good fan recap too –

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Final score: United States 13 – Thailand 0

HB & HB Player of the Match: the entire Thailand team

VISA Player of the Match: Alex Morgan USA


Final thoughts

I’m being punished for some reason in having to cover the US team. I have zero interest in the team and the players. Zip. Zilch. Nada. This makes it painful to even peripherally watch; in this case I listened in between work tasks.

Nothing about this match highlighted the structural weaknesses of the US team (unless you count privileged arrogance) and boy do they have weaknesses. Looking past the goals here (which I know is very difficult for so many people), their attack is relatively staid when compared to a team like France. They rely on their wingers heavily–and who wouldn’t with Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath at your disposal–but when their offensive prowess is nullified even a bit the US cracks wide open. Sweden knows all about the fruit these cracks can bear.

On the flip side, their defense is slow and maybe even creaky? They love to attack but are themselves quick to fall apart under a counter. Even the briefest of attacks from Thailand showed the cracks. The US players say they know this. But knowing it is not the same as doing something to improve it.

Thailand played their toughest emotional match right away and can now regroup for their next v Chile. Much of the same team from 2015 is present in France, including Thailand’s first ever World Cup goalscorer. The Chaba Kaew know how to win on this stage together against more equally matched teams. They know how to hold teams at the top level (they held Australia to penalties last year in the Asian Cup semi-finals). I expect we’ll see more of what they can do in the next round thereby lessening the intense focus on what they couldn’t do here.

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– hopechaser

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