WORLD CUP BECKONS
After a reasonably successful year in 2007, the Thai national football team is determined to perform well in the forthcoming World Cup 2010 qualifying matches
Story By TOR CHITTINAND
Thailand first joined the World Cup qualification in the 1970s and their best record was reaching Asia's final qualifying round, or the last 10 teams, for the 2002 finals in South Korea and Japan.
In the current qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Thais are in Asia's first group stage, or the last 20 teams.
They are grouped with Japan, Oman and Bahrain with the top two teams in each of the five groups progressing to the final qualifying stage, or the last 10 teams.
The 10 finalists will be vying for four automatic slots and the fifth side will meet the Oceania champions in a play-off for another spot.
Brimming with confidence after a relatively successful performance in 2007, Thailand believe strongly that they will at least advance to the last qualifying stage.
Coach Chanvit Phalajivin is targeting 10 points - seven from wins over Bahrain and Oman and draw with Japan at home, and three from three away draws.
Thailand ended the year 2007 with a perfect record in the four-team King's Cup late last month. They defeated Iraq, Uzbekistan and North Korea in the preliminary round before beating Iraq again in the final.
"Winning the King's Cup is good for Thailand's preparations for the World Cup qualification," Chanvit said after the tournament.
Thailand will field a mixture of experience and youth. They will be led by veterans such as midfielders Tawan Sripan, Datsakorn Thonglao and Sutee Suksomkit, defender Suree Sukha of Manchester City and in-form striker Sarayuth Chaikamdee.
The veterans will be backed up by young stars including defender Kiatprawut Saiwaew and striker Teerasil Dangda, both of Manchester City, as well as striker Teerathep Winothai.
Thailand will begin their group stage in the World Cup qualification against Japan in Tokyo on February 6.
They will then have two home games against Oman on March 26 and Bahrain on June 2. They will go to Bahrain on June 7 and receive Japan on June 14 before travelling to Oman on June 22.
Last year, Thailand comfortably defeated Macau and Yemen over two legs in the first two rounds of the World Cup qualification.
Although Thailand lost to Singapore in the Asean Championship and their Olympic team were knocked out in the second qualifying stage, the country's full and junior national sides enjoyed a good year.
Apart from advancing to the group stage of Asia's World Cup qualification and winning the King's Cup, the full national side also were impressive at the Asian Cup.
As a co-host, Thailand almost reached the knock-out stage of Asia's premier competition. They drew 1-1 with Iraq and beat Oman 2-0 before a 4-0 defeat against star-studded Australia ended their hopes of getting past the group phrase.
The Under-23 side won Thailand's eighth consecutive SEA Games title when they beat Burma 2-0 in the final at His Majesty the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary Stadium in Nakhon Ratchasima.
The triumph came just days after the country celebrated His Majesty the King's 80th birthday.
It was quite an auspicious first year for Worawi Makudi who replaced Vijitr Getkaew as president of the Football Association of Thailand. As the only cadidate, Worawi was elected to the post in just a few minutes in March.
Worawi is certainly looking forward to a better spell this year with Thailand reaching Asia's final qualifying stage for the 2010 World Cup his main target.