Group B matches began in Ottawa on Sunday starting with Thailand and Norway. The game was always going to be a bit lopsided with the 11th ranked Europeans physically towering over the 29th ranked Thai women. Since the World Cup has expanded from 16 teams to 24 this year, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were awarded 5 spots which is up from the 3 they had last tournament. Thailand qualified for the World Cup by squeaking past Vietnam to take 5th place in Women’s Asian Cup. This is Thailand’s first appearance in the World Cup and their supporters couldn’t have been any happier about it!
A large contingent was already gathering outside the stadium before the game, all smiles, playing cymbals, tambourines, dressed to the nines and covered in Thai flags and face paint. Marching into the stadium they immediately spread a giant Thai flag over their section. Banners reading “Go Thailand” were unfurled as other Thai supporters from around the stadium wandered over to join the party. Their team were unable to score and Norway won by a commanding score of 4-0. But no matter; the fans remained standing, singing, dancing and cheering their way through to the final whistle, genuinely proud of the women on the pitch.
The Thai supporters had traveled from all over North America and Thailand to get to this event. Kanpitchaya Leesewan has lived in Ottawa for 5 years but said she met other Thai fans from Toronto, Vancouver and New York at the game. Women’s soccer is not very popular in Thailand but she said it’s something special for the country to be included in the most prestigious women’s tournament in the world. If all the games end up like this one did, the Thai are not expecting to make it out of the group stage but Kanpitchaya said they are just happy to cheer and be there for their team. Been and her husband Victor drove all the way from Virginia in the United States to meet Victor’s father who flew all the way from Bangkok to Ottawa for the games. Victor said it’s very exciting for Thailand because their men’s team will never make it to the World Cup so they had to take the opportunity to cheer on the women. All three of them were beaming with pride by the end of the game.
After their game, the Thai players joined fans to watch the next match between an even more unevenly paired Germany and Cote d’Ivoire, all the while happy to stop for photos and to sign autographs. Thailand is here to soak up the whole World Cup experience and learn for the next one. And they are a joy to be around.