Royal performance thwarts Socceroos
Pablo Bateson reflects on the World Cup qualifier between Thailand and Australia in Bangkok, 15 November 201617 November 2016 | Pablo Bateson
There had been big doubts in the lead-up about Thailand being able to overcome a hugely disrupted preparation. However, ‘The War Elephants’ lifted to produce a fine performance that put a dent in the World Cup qualification aspirations of our Socceroos.
Match day pre-game activities of our small group of football compadres were low key by usual standards for away games. Socceroos Active Support (SAS) had made an understandable decision to not organise a large pregame pub style meet up to attract the large contingent of Aussie fans.
We decided to set off early for travel to the Rajamangala Stadium, which meant first of all taking shared taxis and then transferring to a public ferry service on the canal system that criss-crosses many parts of Bangkok.
This was definitely the first time any of us had arrived at a World Cup qualifier by boat! The unique style of 'hop on & off' fast long boat ferries included masked up women fare conductors positioned along the gunwales.
When another ferry approached from the opposite direction a rope and pulley system raised up thick, clear plastic sheeting on the sides to protect passengers from receiving a face or body load of wash and spray. Sadly the water quality of these narrow canals is, well, highly questionable to say the least.
Getting back on to 'dry land' and we walked through a local residential neighbourhood and sampled some street food before heading over a busy main road and to the outer perimeter of the stadium just before sunset.
The vibe was positive and relaxed as thousands of local fans were already converging on the entry points. Amiable exchanges and shared photo opportunities between the 'royal blue' shirted home supporters and our own group only enhanced the occasion.
A series of security check points were efficient and provided a rapid transit through to our away fans section W2. The front balcony railings were ideal to set up our pre-approved banners just over an hour before the scheduled 7pm kick off.
Unlike recent away games in the Gulf region, the availability of low cost iced water and soft drinks in giant drinks containers and snack foods via pop-up kiosks was most welcome in the very warm and humid conditions.
Gradually the stadium filled including three sections of Socceroos fans (travelling and expats), which eventually numbered perhaps around 1,500.
Just before kick-off there were solemn pauses to acknowledge the death of Thailand's beloved King. Black armbands had been handed out on entry to all of our fans to mark a shared respect with the Thai people.
Quite soon after the start, we became concerned about the pitch conditions which appeared to be heavy or gluggy underneath the deceptive lush surface. It was bewildering after recent showers in the tail end of the wet season to see further watering immediately prior to the match.
The Socceroos got off to a flying start through a penalty converted by Mile Jedinak after only 9 minutes. There was jubilation on our terraces, and the chants were fired up.
Even at that early stage, we had increased confidence to go on with the job to secure a comfortable victory. How wrong this somewhat premature optimism would prove to be.
In counter attacking style, the scores were level by the 20th minute when a defensive failure to clear the ball enabled an unmarked Teerasil Dangda to slot in from very close range.
Half-time and much to reflect upon as many fans expressed anxiety about the state of play. This increased early in second half when on 57 minutes a penalty was awarded which was fired in by Dangda for 2-1 to Thailand. This sent the home crowd into raptures as they sensed a huge upset win.
Special mention must be made about the home supporters’ giant 'tifos' in colours of the Thai flag. On three sides these were unfolded before kick-off, and in celebration of goals.
To the right of us on the upper tier were their large active core fans group, whose intensity of chants increased led by a 'capo' who incredibly was positioned outside the safety rail standing on a large light fitting with megaphone in hand!
Good fortune was back with Australia when a controversial penalty was awarded in the 65th minute and again converted by Jedinak. Both sides had opportunities to secure the winner late in the game only to be thwarted by superb goalkeeping at either end.
Full-time and 2-2 seemed like a victory for Thailand and a big disappointment for the Socceroos.
The rain poured down briefly as both squads saluted their respective supporters. This extended to our fans giving the Thailand players a huge ovation of respect for such a mighty contribution to a gripping game. In response, they all bowed with palms of hands together in the simple "wai" greeting position.
After the game, there was much good will and mutual respect and exchanges between 'rival' fans. I donated a Socceroos flag to one small group, and in turn one of the Thai supporters insisted of giving me his official merchandise scarf.
Given the heavy traffic, we decided to delay travel in favour of a late dinner and drinks at a nearby local open-air, undercover restaurant. It was then back to our hotel in shared taxis for an early night by some, while others ventured back into the Bangkok night life.
After a late breakie on Wednesday morning back at the Pan Lee bakery cafe followed by some incredible fresh fruit juices, it was off to the airport for flights home via Singapore.
With our major rivals Japan edging out Saudi Arabia, things are very tight at the top of Group B.
However, the Socceroos are still well in control of creating their own destiny if they bounce back in the next game against Iraq in Tehran and then UAE in Sydney.
The qualification pathway for Russia 2018 just got a bit trickier and we supporters need to play an even bigger role to help lift the team, especially in any tight situations.
I am looking forward to the Persian travel experiences in late March.
socceroos, world cup qualifier, #roadtorussia, thailand