One year ago, when the final whistle blew in Stade Auguste-Delaune in France the scoreline sent shockwaves around the world: 13 goals to the US Women’s National Team, none to Thailand.
It was the single largest margin of victory ever at a World Cup – men’s or women’s. In the game’s aftermath the USWNT would be subjected to criticism that they had celebrated too much or that they had been too ruthless in their thumping of Thailand.
After the match in Reims, striker Alex Morgan, who contributed five goals – tying a Women’s World Cup record – spoke to reporters and said, “Every goal counts.”
From a sporting perspective she was right, but it was hard not to feel a little for the Thai players given it was the country’s only second-ever appearance at a Women’s World Cup.
“It was a nightmare for us,” Thai national team forward Pitsamai Sornsai told CNN Sport. “We are not satisfied with the result, but it helped us understand a higher quality of football. I thought they gave us a lesson to improve our team.”
Thai television presenter Peerapol “Champ” Euariyakul added: “I think a lot of the players, they were ignited by the situation and they were telling me that it pushed them more, that the next time, even when they have to lose, the margin should be smaller.”
And smaller it was. Thailand were beaten 5-1 by Sweden in their next match, but that singular goal gave the team, and the country, some hope.
“I think it inspired a lot of people that they can make the impossible, possible.” Euariyakul said. “I think when they scored that one goal, it’s like a win for Thai people.”
Nualphan Lamsam, who was the team’s general manager during Thailand’s past two World Cup appearances, was seen on television cameras crying after the goal was scored.
“They are tears of joy,” Lamsam told CNN Sport. “I am so proud of my team seeing everyone playing with their full capability under the pressure accumulated since the heavy loss from the first match with the United States.
“Winning and losing are not important, what really matters for us the most and what we are most proud of, is the wonderful spirits of Thai football players.”
Keys to future success
So what’s next for women’s football in Thailand?
Euariyakul and Sornsai both believe it comes down to the domestic league. Lamsam’s family company sponsors the fledgling women’s league, and players on the national team are also employed by her company.
The league is currently semi-professional, but at a time when equal pay dominates the headlines in women’s sport, “Champ” says it goes deeper than that in Thailand.
“The key to success is the professional league. If the players don’t have the professional league, after the World Cup, they have to go and be a salary person, which they don’t want to do.
“They want to play sports full-time. And if our association says we need a professional league, I think we can go and we can compete more competitively.”
Sornsai agrees. She came up playing in various youth and school-based leagues and has been playing with the national team since 2005, earning 115 caps along the way.
“I hope it (Muang Thai Women’s League) will become a professional league in the future,” said Sornsai.
“They have to set up academies for women’s football to produce many talented players. Second, they have to set a higher standard in education, competition and organization. Finally, they have to invest more in facilities to improve and have success in the future.
“In this moment, women’s football is more popular in Thailand,” added Somsai. “We can use this momentum to create more women players and improve the standard.”
Lamsam believes her efforts over her eights years at the helm were not in vein.
“I want to establish pride and make everyone know about our Thai women’s football team,” she said. “Although football is the popular sport worldwide, it only referred to men’s games in Thailand.”
Euariyakul agrees and thinks women’s matches should be played before men’s games to help get fans in the stands, and the league itself needs to be more visible.
“The most important thing is we should promote, and we should watch more women’s games. We just broadcast the World Cup, it’s like a bubble. It comes on once in four years and I don’t think that’s enough. You need a strong belief, like in England, you need to broadcast the game every week.”
As the announcement of the host for the 2023 Women’s World Cup draws near, Sornsai, who would be 34 during the tournament, knows that the Thais aren’t at the level they need to be yet, but they’re getting there.
‘We hope we can go to play in the World Cup again and then, of course, close the big gap from the top teams.”
CNN’s Amanda Davies contributed to this report.