Bangkok: Theerathon Bunmathan created a slice of history last year by becoming the first Thai player to win the J.League. Now he is hoping to help Thailand reach new heights during the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 as they seek to eventually appear on football’s most venerated stage.
A cultured left-back – he invariably is on dead-ball assignment for both club and country – Teerathon is somewhat emblematic of the modern Thai footballer. Modest in build, Teerathon is big in heart and boasts a stylish technique that has landed him a key role with the J.League’s new-found entertainers – Yokohama F Marinos.
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Former Australia coach Ange Postecoglou brought his inspired attacking approach to the club and collected early dividends with a title in just his second season, the club’s first in 15 years. One of his initial signings was Theerathon, who had been on loan at Vissel Kobe alongside Lukas Podolski and Andres Iniesta, having previously donned the colours of Thai League high-flyers Muangthong United.
Sure enough, it was the fullback who shone as brightly as any of the many Brazilians that decorate Japan’s top division. Teerathon partly stole the glory with a goal and an assist as the Marinos won the title on the final day of the 2019 campaign.
Thai footballers have made infrequent appearances in Japan since the 1980s, but the current crop make up the spine of the national team. Headline-grabbing striker Teerasil Dangda is at Shimizu S-Pulse and pint-sized midfield whiz Chanathip Songkrasin flashes his fast feet in the shirt of Hokkaido side Consadole Sapporo.
“To play in the J.League was my dream,” Theerathon told FIFA.com. “I had decided to move to Japan if I had the opportunity to play outside of the Thai league, rather than the likes of the Chinese Super League or Australian A-League."
“My experiences in Japan have allowed me to be challenged mentally and develop a hungry spirit. It took me two to three months to adapt to the playing style of the J.League, Japanese culture and climate, as it was my first international transfer.
“Initially I watched some matches from a higher perspective high up in the stadium. That helped me to understand appropriate positioning, better timing to join attacks and required movement etc. All of which is necessary to play here.
“I believe Thai players can succeed in the J.League. Some young players will have that opportunity in the future, but they should understand it will be tough and they will have challenges. Great football technique is not enough.”
Thailand’s improvement over the past decade has been clear to see. Last year’s Round-of-16 run in the AFC Asian Cup was a 47-year high. Even then, China PR needed to come from behind to edge out the War Elephants and reach the quarter-finals.
Similarly, Russia 2018 participants Australia were pushed to the limit before clinching a 2-2 draw in Bangkok on the road to that World Cup. Thailand had reached Round 3 by finishing ahead of former continental kings Iraq. Now they are well placed to reprise that feat in their Qatar 2022 campaign, though they currently trail Southeast Asian rivals Vietnam and Malaysia by three points and one point respectively in a hugely entertaining Group G.
“I believe Thailand is moving forward step by step because some players, including me, play in competitive leagues outside of [the Thai] national league,” said Teerathon. “To be a stronger team, the important thing is to raise good players consistently.
“I have the feeling that Qatar 2022 is my last chance to attend a World Cup,” Teerathon said when asked if Thailand can qualify for the World Cup. “It is not easy to win out of the qualification phase and we are in a challenging situation in the current round. But I will try to do my best and put everything on the line in order to get good results.”
Sources: FIFA.com, AFP, AFC
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