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Nuengrutai: Kanjana’s goal means the world to Thailand

Nice: Kanjana Sung-Ngoen’s FIFA Women’s World Cup goal against Sweden is one of priceless significance, according to Thailand head coach Nuengrutai Sranthogvian.

The 91st-minute strike didn’t win them the match - Thailand fell to a 5-1 defeat to the world number nine Swedes – but it did provide a moment of unbridled joy for the Southeast Asian side, which had suffered a record 13-0 defeat to the United States in their opening match on Tuesday.

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Trailing 4-0 in second half stoppage time in their second fixture, Kanjana launched a lung-bursting run down the right-hand side of the pitch before hammering the ball past goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl at her near post, sparking celebrations not only inside Stade de Nice, but in Thailand and beyond.

It was a moment to make the nation proud, to reduce team manager Nualphan Lamsam to tears on the touchline and, according to Nuengrutai, give her players a fitting reward for their efforts.

“This goal meant a lot to us,” she said. “It was a difficult goal and, playing a great team like Sweden, it meant so much. It meant that all of our preparation paid off.”

“We had a lot of chances today and this one goal made us laugh, made us smile and made us happy.”

In scoring the crucial goals against Vietnam that took her country to its first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, then repeating the achievement against the Philippines to reach France 2019, Kanjana had already exerted a monumental influence on the women’s game in Thailand prior to her strike against Sweden.

But finding the back of the net on the world stage solidifies the legacy of a player who has led the Chaba Kaew from the front for over a decade, making her the third Thai player to score at a World Cup after Orathai Srimanee and Thanatta Chawong.

The 32-year-old’s coach paid her tribute, not only for netting against the Swedes, but for the intangible qualities she consistently adds to the team.

“Kanjana is a player, she is a captain and she is a leader,” declared Nuengrutai. “She is the centre of the team.”

“She is very determined, and she ran a lot today. She is trying to be a role model and show her leadership to other players, and we can feel that power in the team.

“It doesn’t matter the situation the team is in, you can see the spirit in the team is good, that they have forgotten what has happened (earlier in the tournament) and they are ready to fight in the next game.”

Thailand’s goal was a fitting reward for a much sterner performance than the one delivered in the record-breaking loss to the world champion Americans in Reims, where the Southeast Asians conceded 10 goals in the second half.

Nuengrutai praised her players for the bravery shown in their second outing in France but called for the nation to continue their efforts to develop the women’s national team.

“The first improvement today was our mentality,” she said. “The players weren’t scared to play today.

“They’re trying to improve, and they were trying to compete with the opponent. We tried to attack, and we enjoyed the game.”

“Our defeat in the first game was massive, and we were disappointed, but even though we scored one goal today and had some success, we still need to improve, to develop and get better. We need to get as close as we can to other teams and play better in future.”

The Chaba Kaew’s short-term future revolves squarely around their final Group F fixture against Chile on Thursday, with a win in that match, at least theoretically, able to keep them in knockout stage contention.

But whatever lies ahead for Thailand, Kanjana’s breakaway strike in Nice – and the outpouring that followed - has given them a moment to cherish from this World Cup, and created one of the tournament’s indelible images.

Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFP

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