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Team in focus: Thailand

Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Thailand rejoice - AFC Women's Asian Cup 2018 - 1

Kuala Lumpur: With just four days remaining until the official draw ceremony for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in France, shines the spotlight on Thailand, who return to the global stage after a memorable 2015 debut.

The Chaba Kaew experienced a mixed bag in Canada three years ago, enduring heavy defeats to former world champions Germany and Norway before earning a historic maiden World Cup win against Ivory Coast, and their recent fortunes suggest they remain a team capable of the good, bad and ugly.

At the heart of head coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian's outfit is an experienced core featuring the likes of Sunisa Srangthaisong, Kanjana Sung-Ngoen and Duangnapa Sritala, but the AFC Women's Asian Cup provided the platform for a number of younger players to emerge.

US-raised 21-year-old Suchawadee Nildhamrong adds the ability to hold the ball up and bring teammates into the game as a central striker, while Silawan Intamee, 24, produced a series of strong displays in midfield in 2018.

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Road to France

Thailand's 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualification path began with their successful attempt to qualify for the AFC Women's Asian Cup, with the Southeast Asians seeing off Chinese Taipei and hosts Palestine to top Group C without conceding a goal.

Those matches were played under the tutelage of British head coach Spencer Prior, but a change of leadership after the 2017 SEA Games saw Nuengrutai return to the top job, and it was the 2015 World Cup mentor who led Thailand to the Women's Asian Cup Finals in Jordan.

The Chaba Kaew performed brilliantly in Jordan, securing a first semi-final appearance since the 1986 - and World Cup qualification - with wins over Jordan (6-1) and the Philippines (3-1) thanks to some excellent attacking football.

While their eventual fourth-place finish was an achievement worth celebrating, it could have been even better for the Thais. They were moments away from beating Australia in the semi-final, but eventually suffered defeat in a penalty shootout after conceding a last-minute Alanna Kennedy equaliser in a 2-2 draw.

Recent form

The AFC Women's Asian Cup was followed by six wins from six in a successful title defence at the AFF Women's Championship in Indonesia, but that's where the joy ended for Thailand in 2018, as they endured a desperate form slump to close the year.

Six consecutive losses, including a 5-0 hammering at the hands of China PR at the Asian Games, suggests much improvement is required should Thailand be successful in France next year.

Head coach: Nuengrutai Srathongvian

One of the most accomplished female coaches in Asia, the 47-year-old has been part of the Football Association of Thailand's technical staff for well over a decade, and has now led the senior women's national team to back to back FIFA Women's World Cups.

Replaced by Spencer Prior following Canada 2015, Nuengrutai returned to the senior role in late 2017 and achieved success in both the AFC Women's Asian Cup and AFF Championship in 2018, but a run of recent losses shows the work that lies ahead in the countdown to France 2019.

Star player: Kanjana Sung-Ngoen

The pacy and intelligent 32-year-old forward is the fine wine that keeps getting better with age, consistently producing excellent performances throughout 2018, with none better than her starring role in the classic AFC Women's Asian Cup semi-final against Australia.

Kanaja played at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, but was unable to find the back of the net. A goal on the world's biggest stage would be a fitting reward for what has been a commendable career.