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Striking out for Sweden

National women's soccer player Thanatta Chanwong joins Ostersunds DFF on a two-month transfer

Just a month ago, national women's soccer team player Thanatta Chanwong, or Joy as she's known to family and friends, was occupied with the Thai team's preparations for the upcoming Asian Games in South Korea.

But life has a way of changing without warning and that's exactly what happened to the 25 year-old, who has just become one of only a handful of Thai female athletes to ply her trade abroad.

Thanatta was surprised if delighted to learn that she had been picked as one of two Thai female players to join Swedish third-tier club Ostersunds DFF.

Her transfer is part of player-exchange project under the MOU agreement between Bangkok Metropolitan Council and its Swedish counterpart, Ostersund, a small town in the middle of Sweden. The process was so fast that Thanatta and fellow forward Taneekarn Dangda found out about their proposed move to Sweden only a fortnight ago.

Things were hastily arranged for the Thai pair, who flew to Sweden on Tuesday. They will spend two months playing for Ostersunds, which is currently leading the race for promotion in the second half of the domestic season.

Speaking only a few days ahead of her trip, the soft-spoken Thanatta, who hails from Nong Bua Lumphu province, says she was astounded when she learnt she had been selected for the two-month stint at Ostersunds. However, she was quick to jump at the opportunity.

"I was stunned when they told me that I would play in the Swedish league. It was a real bolt from the blue. But I accepted without hesitation because it's the dream of every football player to play abroad. We all want the experience of playing overseas," says Thanatta, who has played for the national team since the youth level.

Given that Thailand's women football league is only a semi-professional competition, Thanatta is hoping her brief spell with Ostersunds will help her achieve her dream of becoming a professional player.

"It's my ultimate dream. I started by wanting to be a national player. But now, like many other athletes, I dream of playing professionally abroad.

"I think my earnings from football are relatively low, even by female wage standards. As we grow up, our expenses increase and today my income no longer covers my spending. However, I'm fortunate that Khun Pang (Nuanpan Lamsam, the national team manager) took me on as an officer at her Muang Thai Insurance company. That's helped to some extent.

"Two months is relatively short but it is a good opportunity to gain experience and accumulate knowledge. I hope to bring back what I learn to help the national team."

The Swedish trip is something of a reward for the young woman, who has demonstrated her will to fight on despite two serious injuries, which left her struggling to live up to her early promise.

"I had a chance to take part in the selection trials for the national under-17 side when I was studying at Khon Kaen Sports School. I made the cut to represent the country at the Asian Championship in South Korea and we made history by clinching the third spot.

"Since then I have featured in every age-group side and played for the senior team for the first time at the SEA Games tournament in the Philippines in 2005. But knee injuries kept me out of the national team for the best part of two years.

"I had the first operation on my knee three years ago and that kept me on the sidelines for more than a year. Last year, I had to undergo more knee surgery before I could come back for the SEA Games in Myanmar in December.

"I'm not sure why I was chosen for Ostersunds. It may be because I just came back to the team and they wanted me to get more games under my belt as well as overseas experience. I'm really grateful to the Thai FA and the coaching staff for showing faith in me."

Thanatta however admits to mixed feelings about missing the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, as the dates - September 19 to October 4 - coincide with her loan to Ostersunds.

"If you ask me whether I regret missing out on the chance to play in the Asian Games, then the answer is both yes and no. Going to Sweden is one kind of experience while playing at the Games is another. Either one gives me the chance to do what I love."

Despite venturing into uncharted waters, the Thai is relishing the prospect of measuring herself against European players.

"I tried to find some information about Swedish football and learned that they mainly use long balls because most of the players are tall. I'm not afraid of playing there because everyone is equal on the field. It depends on who learns most from the coach. We need to adapt as quickly as possible.

"I may be small but I have the agility to compensate for my physical disadvantage. I'll try to create opportunities for myself to get more playing time. I don't know how strong an Ostersunds side is. When you are at that point you do your best to get into the team."


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