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A 13-0 World Cup Rout? Thailand Is as Proud as Ever

Category: Football,Sports

BANGKOK — On June 11, 2015, at the World Cup, the Thai women’s soccer team defeated the Ivory Coast squad, 3-2. It was the Southeast Asian nation’s debut at the tournament, and the victory was as unexpected as it was thrilling.

Four years later to the day, the Thai women made history again, victims of the most lopsided thrashing in World Cup history, losing to the Americans, 13-0.

But far from bemoaning the rout, which took place in the early morning hours in Bangkok when the streets were dark but the pavements still pulsing with tropical heat, Tanatpong Kongsai was happy that the squad was representing Thailand in its second consecutive World Cup.

“I am not embarrassed at all,” said Mr. Tanatpong, a longtime soccer fan. “The Thai national anthem was heard all over the stadium. The women’s team never disappoints Thais.”

Although the American players earned some criticism for their exuberant celebration of every goal — by the 13th, it became hard to remember how each was scored — most supporters of the Thai team declined to take offense or wallow in national angst.

Thatcha Antivackis, a Thai living in France, drove about 150 miles to attend the World Cup match in Reims, France, on Tuesday. “The U.S. team’s supporters were so friendly and nice,” she said. “Even if the result was 20-0, we would still have fun and give moral support to every player.”

“We cheered and sang for the team until the last of the 94 minutes,” she added. “I was happy to be there and proud that the team could get to this stage.”

Adisorn Phiungya, a television sports commentator, also defended the Americans, who are the defending World Cup champions, against accusations that they showboated or scored gratuitous goals.

“This is their new team, and they wanted to win,” he said. “This is a game of teamwork. Once you score a goal, of course you have to celebrate.”

Many Thais are soccer mad. Two Thai tycoons took ownership of the Premier League teams Manchester City and Leicester. But the men’s national team, known as the War Elephants, has never made it to the World Cup. Only a handful of Thai men have played for a top overseas club.

The local league is rife with corruption and match-fixing. A former head of the Football Association of Thailand had such a scandal-plagued tenure that he was pushed out by FIFA, the international body governing soccer, which itself has shown an ability to gloss over irregularities by member national associations.

All of which makes the accomplishments of the Thai national women’s team shine more brightly, its fans say. The women’s squad, whose mascot is a mythical pink elephant adorned with a flower on its left ear, is ranked 34th in the world. The men’s national squad is 114th.

Although Thai women have earned more Olympic gold medals than their male counterparts, all in weight lifting, women’s sports are still an afterthought in the country. As in many Asian nations, the prevailing attitude is that men are supposed to play sports while women cheer them on.

“We have to admit that there is barely any popularity for women’s domestic football,” said Mr. Adisorn, the television commentator.

While FIFA has lobbied for greater government funding of women’s teams, private benefactors are often needed to bankroll them. In Thailand, the money comes from Nualphan Lamsam, the head of a Thai insurance company and heiress to a banking fortune.

Ms. Nualphan, known here as Madam Pang and famous for her jet-setting social life, funds some of the players’ salaries so that they can concentrate on soccer rather than on earning a paycheck.

On Facebook on Wednesday, Ms. Nualphan, in her role as the team’s general manager, posted an apology for the team’s performance but kept a positive outlook. “We will fight to the fullest in the two remaining matches with the spirit of sportsmanship,” she wrote.

Up next for Thailand is Sweden and then Chile, which is ranked 39th in the world and is making its own World Cup debut.

In less exalted tournaments, the Thai women’s team is used to routs of its own. At a friendly last year, the Thais dominated the Indonesians. The score? 13-0.


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