From historic defeat, Thailand strives for World Cup success
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — On June 11, 2019 the Thailand women’s soccer team endured the biggest-ever loss at a women’s soccer World Cup, a 13-0 trouncing by the United States which cast an unwelcome spotlight on the state of the sport in the South East Asian nation.
On Saturday, a refurbished Thailand team under a new head coach and with the youngest playing group in its history played Cameroon in an inter-continental playoff match in New Zealand, hoping to qualify again for a World Cup and move beyond the shadow of that defeat.
Thailand saw its hopes of World Cup redemption dashed as it conceded two late second-half goals to lose 2-0 to a physical Cameroon side and was eliminated from the playoffs.
Despite not qualifying for the 2023 tournament, those in charge of the Thailand team have high hopes for the future.
Head coach Miyo Okamoto, a plain-speaking former Japan professional, has made waves with her innovative approach to tactics and selections. Okamoto likely would make more waves if she fully expresses her views on her team’s funding, development and its opportunities to play international matches.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Okamoto made clear that having taken up her current role in 2021 she personally is untouched by any hangover from the last World Cup.
"We haven’t been the coaching staff for the full four years since the last World Cup,” Okamoto said, speaking with a translator. “It’s only been two years since we took over from a Thai male coach so we can only talk about the last two years we have been involved in the program.
“More than half of the players are brand new faces since the last World Cup. We’ve made it a really new, young team. Our average age is about 23 which is exceptionally low for our historical national teams.”
Okamoto’s first year in charge was dictated by COVID. With international matches all but impossible, the Thai players spent almost 10 months in training camps.
Last year at last brought some release and the Thailand team played around 18 matches in the calendar year beginning with the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India and including friendly matches against Australia and China-Taipei. At a training camp in Japan, the Thai team played informal matches against Japan club teams.
Thailand had the chance to qualify directly for the World during the Indian tournament but an outbreak of COVID among the squad damaged its chances.
Like most coaches, Okamoto always would prefer more matches and feels there is work still be done. Her approach in rebuilding the Thai team over the past two years has been from the ground up.
“Over the past two years we’ve been rebuilding the whole tactical system of play which we think was lacking for the Thai team in the past,” she said. “We started with the basics.
“We created the rules for the teams (including the women’s under-20 team) and we’ve been working on that for the past two years, very basic tactical stuff.
“It’s going to be unrealistic for us to completely control the game and have dominance over other international teams. So we prioritize defending well and capitalizing on counter-attacking opportunities we may encounter.”
Irravadee Makris, the Alaska-born, Alabama raised midfielder exemplifies Okamoto’s influence on the Thai team. The now 31-year-old was a left-field selection who learned on Facebook of her call-up to the national squad.
Makris now wants to make the best of her late chance by being a member of a World Cup team.
“That’s an aspect of our game we’ve been focusing on lately, trying to get stronger and get used to the physicality we’re going to face by playing against bigger, faster players," she said in a FIFA interview. "Miyo wants us to be positive. That confidence and aggression is definitely something she’s brought to my game and it’s improved me a lot."
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Steve Mcmorran, The Associated Press