Football might be among the last things in people’s thoughts when it comes to assessing the impact from Thailand’s worst flooding in years but the damage it caused to the sport could be as severe as the economic loss.
November is the most important month for Thailand as their footballers have two major assignments – the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and also the SEA Games in Indonesia.
But the Thai side could be forgiven for cursing their luck for the poor timing of the flood which has affected a wide part of Bangkok and which has forced the SEA Games squad to head to Phuket for their final phase of the preparation.
No one could have anticipated that the natural disaster would become the X-factor in the Thai team’s preparations for the second part of their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. And, none would have complained if Thailand had been out of contention for the qualification spot.
With Thailand firmly in the race for a berth in the final qualifying round, the Thais’ irritation from having their preparations disrupted by outside forces appears understandable. It has only made national coach Winfried Schaefer’s task harder in preparing his charges, currently lying in second spot with four points from three matches, in the final stretch.
The veteran German, who breathed a new lease of life into the Thai team since taking over the post from the ineffective Bryan Robson in July, would have been in better mood had his side snatched a victory in the home tie against Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
The goalless draw at the Rajamangala Stadium instead left them hanging on to the runners-up spot, which brought the qualification for the final 10-team stage, with just a two-point cushion from third-placed Saudi Arabia and Oman a further point adrift.
Pacesetters Australia looked odds-on to finish top of Group D after making a perfect start with three wins from three matches.
Without the flood, the 61-year-old Schaefer already had plenty to think about after his men shared the spoils, albeit fortunately, with the Saudi side coached by former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard.
Had it not been for some excellent goalkeeping from veteran Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool, who kept his place despite the availability of the fit-again Kawin Thamsatchanan, the Middle East team would have earned their first win of the campaign.
After some breathtaking attacking display in a hugely impressive 3-0 win over Oman last month, Schaefer’s men then came up short of creativity in the face of Saudis’ brutish display. With the in-form striker Teerasil Dangda, who scored a goal in each of the opening two matches, often being outmuscled by the Saudi defence, the Thais rarely threatened the visitors’ goal.
More worryingly, the Thai team’s chronic problem also resurfaced against Rijkaard’s side. Many players were visibly tired, protecting the ball rather than fighting for it in the closing stages.
That left the German, fondly called by Thai media as “Winnie”, with a headache before the trip to Saudi Arabia on 11 November 2011 as the flood has disrupted whatever he had planned to improve the players’ physical conditions.
Schaefer’s cause was not helped further by the postponement of Thailand Premier League’s fixtures as well as the cancellation of a warm-up game against Nepal, which was originally to be held before the team left for Middle East.
With the flood waters likely to stay on in the capital for as long as a month, it would certainly have an impact on the Thais’ penultimate game against Australia, four days after the Saudi fixture.
The Football Association of Thailand are considering moving the game to northern city Chiang Mai in case Rajamangala National Stadium, currently being used as evacuation shelter, would not be able to host the match.
The unexpected factor of flooding has complicated the Thais’ qualification chances. Not mention to the personnel problem as the team were sweating on the fitness of Muang Thong United’s Teerasil, who struggled with a groin strain.
There is nothing people could do now except hope that the flood crisis would end as soon as possible.
SOURCE: The Nation