Nuengrutai rejoices as Thailand celebrate Women’s World Cup return
Amman: A delighted Nuengrutai Srathongvian basked in the joy of FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification after watching her side beat a resurgent Philippines to 3-1 to storm into the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2018 semi finals on Thursday.
Having become the first Thai head coach to achieve World Cup qualification in 2014, the 46-year-old tactician ensured the Southeast Asians will return to the world stage, and revealed her satisfaction at the achievement.
“Right now, I’m very happy,” she said, adding “we finally reached our target and our goal for the tournament.”
“Amongst the pressure and the expectation of the fans, it’s a really happy moment now that we’ve made it. We know we’ll have to play better and face tougher tests at the tournament next year. I think the teams from Asia are among the best, so if we can compete at this level, we can also play at the higher level.”
As was the case when Thailand secured qualification by beating Vietnam four years ago, Kanjana Sung-Ngeon played a pivotal role, scoring twice on a night where both sides created many chances in front of goal, and Nuengrutai heaped praised the veteran.
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“She really is a very valuable player for us, especially when we play against tough opponents,” she said.
“She always gives us a surprise. She’s one of the players who’ll always step up and answer the question for us and solve the problem”
Suchawadee Nildhamrong was also outstanding against the Malditas, playing a role in all three goals. The US-raised star, who has a Thai father and an American mother, has been one of the revelations of the tournament, and her head coach revealed the extent of her impact.
“She’s always eager to play for our national team, no matter where she is playing,” Nuengrutai said.
“Her determination is something that is considered very Thai amongst our players. She has a good relationship with her teammates and brings a lively joyfulness to the team.
“It’s critical to have her in the team at the moment. It’s a really good thing. She’s a different type of player to the ones we have and we expect to see a lot more of her in future tournaments.”
While Nuengrutai has ultimately guided Thailand to the semi-finals, and World Cup qualification, she has done so after being re-assigned to an assistant role since their last trip to the global finals.
She was only re-appointed as national team head coach in September 2017, after Thailand had competed in Jordan 2018 qualifiers under Englishman Spencer Prior, but the popular mentor said she’s just happy to play a part.
“I’m always proud, no matter what role I’m in,” she said.
“Last year I was in the staff, now I’m the head coach, but every time we wear this shirt it gives us something special, so I’m very proud and very happy to be involved.”
Philippines head coach Rabah Benlarbi was left to rue his side’s defeat, and try to find a way to re-energise his players before Monday’s all-important playoff for fifth, where a win will see the Malditas join Thailand in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“We started well in the first 20 minutes, then we had a penalty against us,” he recalled.
“We continued to play and we scored, but the goal was refused, but this is football and you can’t complain. We still have a chance. It’s not over for us. We will go out and try to play without pressure.”
Benlarbi said he believed his side’s lack of big game experience at international level was a factor in their defeat.
“They have more experience than us. My players have only (US) college level experience, so in this kind of match, you need more experience to manage situations during the game,” he said.
“It’s easy to stand on the side and say you know the weaknesses of Thailand, but when you’re on the pitch it’s totally different,”