BANGKOK: Thailand is gearing up to throw its full weight behind a national football team looking to hoist the Suzuki Cup trophy for a record fifth time on Saturday (Dec 17).
After rampaging through the biennial ASEAN tournament undefeated, the War Elephants now find themselves on the backfoot in the finals with a 1-2 first-leg deficit to overcome against unfancied Indonesia.
Thailand must now win by at least one goal to seize the Cup on home soil and the fans appear aware of the task at hand, snapping up all available tickets to the match at the 50,000-capacity Rajamangala Stadium.
And on Thursday (Dec 15) the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) issued a statement denouncing overpriced ticket touting, and offered a 10,000 baht reward for police to make arrests as well as for citizens to provide information.
Thai supporter Sumalee Thanadram described the mood in Thailand as “a little demoralised” after the first-leg defeat by Indonesia. “But after regrouping, we are now more than excited and confident for this Saturday's final,” she said. “I hope Thailand will bring home the win and I expect our team to do their best and put up a good match.”
“It will be dramatic for sure,” said Thana Wongmanee, editor of Goal.com Thailand. “This Cup has become something that if we win, it’s good but nothing over the moon - but if we don’t win now, it will be a catastrophe.
“I hope, and expect us to be champions, of course. After this, we get back to the World Cup qualifiers - to win the Suzuki Cup may gain the team just a little boost, but to lose can damage our confidence a lot. So nobody wants to lose, but even then, the celebrations may not be as much as 2014,” he added, referring to when Thailand broke a 12-year duck to lift the regional title.
The match comes at a time when the nation is in a year-long period of mourning following the October passing of their revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
While the mood in the country remains sombre, Tor Chittinand, a sports reporter at the Bangkok Post newspaper, said that this should not be a barrier to fans giving full voice to their support during the match. "The Thai government has already allowed the FAT to continue football activities and they’ve arranged two matches already - the World Cup qualification round with Australia on Nov 15 and the semi-final match with Myanmar on Dec 8.
“So there's no problem about this. But supporters have to wear suitably polite clothes for the match, like the blue jersey that the Thai team wears, or white or black dress,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
Indeed, there is a sense among some that the current situation will provide an added impetus for the players and fans.
“Right now things are more open-air; it’s not as sad as it was a couple of months ago,” said Thana.
“It’ll be like more of 'do it for His Majesty' than a mourning atmosphere,” he added, mirroring Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang's repeated calls to honour King Bhumibol’s memory by winning the Suzuki Cup.