Reims: Nuengrutai Srathongvian is fully aware of the challenge presented by FIFA Women’s World Cup holders the United States, but the Thailand head coach has given her players permission to dream big ahead of Tuesday’s opening Group E match.
The three-time champion Americans have never lost a World Cup opener, and few expect to see that streak come to an end against a Thailand side 33 places below them in the world rankings at Stade Auguste-Delaune.
Jill Ellis’ star-studded outfit comes into the match with a six-game winning streak, while the Chaba Kaew have lost their previous five, but Nuengrutai insists no one in her camp has given up hope of a historic upset.
“Dreaming is good,” she said. “if we can control our dream; we want that dream to come true. if that dream comes true, we can make history.”
“(If we can do that) it means that Thailand can play against any team in the world.”
A poor run of pre-tournament results, including a 6-1 loss to Belgium on June 1, underlines the enormity of the task at hand for Thailand, but they can call on the experience of having appeared in the Finals four years ago in Canada.
Nuengrutai was also in charge in that campaign – which yielded a maiden World Cup win against Côte d’Ivoire - and the 47-year-old was quick to remind those at the pre-match media conference that Thailand’s achievement of returning to the elite global stage is one which has been well earned.
“We are here in the 24 finalists because of our success, and to play the number one team in the world like the US is also a success,” she declared.
“Without this tournament it is not possible for us to play against them in an official match. We will take this opportunity to develop our ability.
“For the result, of course, we want a good result. We want a point from the match.”
One player Thailand will need to keep close tabs on is American striker Alex Morgan, whose career haul of 101 international goals has helped her become one of the biggest stars in the sport.
The Americans are widely considered to be among the favourites to lift the World Cup on June 7, but Morgan – a World Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist - said her ample experience of tournament football has taught her not to look any further than the task immediately at hand.
“We’ve been through this quite a few times,” she explained. “(We’ve) seen what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and how we can treat each game like it’s our most important one.
“So, for right now, we haven’t talked about any opponent other than Thailand.”
In a unique twist, Morgan will be one of two players in Tuesday’s match to have played in American college competition for the University of California Golden Bears, but her fellow alumnus will be wearing Thailand colours.
American born Suchawadee Nildhamrong, also known as Miranda Nild, is expected to lead the line for the Southeast Asian side, and Morgan revealed her pre-match meeting with the 22-year-old.
“Well I just met her in the hallway, so it’s already friendly fire,” she laughed. “I introduced myself to her. I was the proactive one.”
“I'm really excited to see some fellow Cal Bears - not only Miranda in the game with myself tomorrow, but we have a couple of others as well - so it’s always great to be able to represent our university.”
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— Changsuek (@Changsuek_TH) June 10, 2019
Thailand’s only previous fixture against the United States, in 2016, ended in a heavy defeat, with the Americans scoring three goals within the opening five minutes of the match before cruising to a 9-0 win.
United States v Thailand
FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Group F
Thailand Report Stade Auguste-Delaune, Reims
Kick-off: 21.00 (local time)
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFP