In a few hours’ time, barring a sequence of events so improbable as to not even merit serious concern, the USWNT will have easily beaten Thailand in the two countries’ opening 2019 Women’s World Cup match. The extent of that essentially guaranteed result—as in, whether the U.S.’s impending victory looks like a casual stroll in a park or if it bears a closer resemblance to Saturn Devouring His Son—will likely go a long way toward determining just how successful Thailand’s World Cup can be.
Thailand know exactly why the scoreline of the U.S. game will be so important, because they went through practically the same scenario four years ago. In the 2015 World Cup, Thailand found themselves in a group alongside two clear favorites, Germany and Norway, and one fellow bad team, Ivory Coast. By beating Ivory Coast, Thailand set themselves up well to qualify for the round of 16 in third-place in the group (in the 24 team World Cup format, four of the six third-placed group teams make it to the knockout rounds) in what was their first ever World Cup. Unfortunately, because the Chaba Kaew got plastered in their other two matches against the big guns by a combined score of 8-0, their negative-seven goal difference made them the only team at that World Cup to win a match and yet fail to progress to the next stage of the tournament.
The challenge before Thailand is similar this time around. In place of Germany and Norway as the group favorites, Thailand now face the U.S. and Sweden; instead of Ivory Coast, there is Chile. If Thailand want to improve upon their still wildly successful 2015 World Cup by actually sneaking into the first knockout round, they’d be well served trying their damnedest to make sure today’s match against the USWNT ends with a run-of-the-mill loss instead of a truly memorable ass-whooping.
Goalkeepers: Waraporn Boonsing (Bundit Asia), Sukanya Chor Charoenying (Air Force United), Tiffany Sornpao (Kennesaw State Owls)
Defenders: Kanjanaporn Saengkoon (Bundit Asia), Natthakarn Chinwong (Bundit Asia), Duangnapa Sritala (Bangkok), Ainon Phancha (Chonburi Sriprathum), Warunee Phetwiset (Chonburi Sriprathum), Sunisa Srangthaisong (Bundit Asia), Khwanrudi Saengchan (Bundit Asia), Pitsamai Sornsai (Chonburi Sriprathum), Phornphirun Philawan (Bundit Asia)
Midfielders: Pikul Khueanpet (Bundit Asia), Silawan Intamee (Chonburi Sriprathum), Sudarat Chucheun (Sisaket), Rattikan Thongsombut (Bundit Asia), Orapin Waenngoen (Bundit Asia), Wilaiporn Boothduang (Bangkok), Kanjana Sungngoen (Bangkok)
Forwards: Suchawadee Nildhamrong (California Goldent Bears), Orathai Srimanee (Bundit Asia), Saowalak Pengngam (Chonburi Sriprathum), Taneekarn Dangda (Bangkok)
Chaba Kaew (Reference to a female elephant character in the popular animated movie, Khan Kluay)
Thailand’s gameplan will probably vary pretty widely from match to match. In that first game against the U.S., they will be focused entirely on sitting deep and holding on for dear life. Unfortunately, Thailand don’t have a very good track record of late when it comes to defending. In their last 12 international matches leading into the World Cup, Thailand have lost 11 times and won once. Six of those 11 loses have been by at least three goal margins, including a 6-1 defeat to Belgium in their most recent match just ten days ago. Belgium aren’t even in the World Cup! The U.S. have the most terrifying array of attackers on the planet! There will be bloodshed in that match, and Thailand’s only aim will be to staunch the bleeding as quickly as possible.
The Sweden match will be more of the same, but perhaps with a little more attacking impetus from the Thai women. Sweden are very good, but their strength isn’t in going forward. Because of that, Thailand should find themselves with more time on the ball and more opportunities to hit out on the odd counter. On that end, Suchawadee Nildhamrong, the American-born midfielder who goes by Miranda Nild stateside and plays college ball for the Cal Golden Bears, will be important to Thailand’s attempts to threaten Sweden’s defense. Another loss is likely, but if they can ensure it’s a narrow one, then Thailand would consider it a win.
The headline match for the Chaba Kaew will be the group-ender against Chile. Chile are a better team than the Ivory Coast bunch Thailand beat last World Cup, but they aren’t appreciably better than Thailand, so a win is possible. In that match, expect Thailand to play more like they do when facing smaller competitors whom they dispatch with ease. When given time and space, this Thailand team can score goals. It’s just that the kind of time and space Thailand need will only be present in the Chile match, and even then it probably won’t be enough to secure the win that might see them through.
June 11, 3 p.m.: USA vs. Thailand at Stade Auguste-Delaune
June 16, 9 a.m.: Sweden vs. Thailand at Stade de Nice
June 20, 3 p.m.: Thailand vs. Chile at Roazhon Park
All times Eastern