The organisers must have been relieved that the seventh edition of the event, the third hosted in Asia, finally got underway. The Thai team’s group-stage fixtures were originally scheduled for the billion-baht Bangkok Futsal Arena but construction delays at the venue, in Nong Chok district on the outskirts of the capital, forced organisers to switch to Hua Mark Indoor stadium.
World soccer’s governing body Fifa gave provisional approval for the Arena’s use in the latter stages of the event on the eve of the 24-team competition. Yesterday the focus finally turned to business on the futsal court, with a near capacity crowd turning up for the hosts’ opening Group A match against Concacaf champions Costa Rica.
Led by talented striker Diego Zuniga, dubbed the Ronaldinho of futsal, the continental champions posted early warnings against the hosts with two chances in the opening exchanges.
Despite enjoying greater possession, the Thais found scoring chances hard to come by as the visitors’ mean defence came to the fore.
Nevertheless, the Thais had two good chances to open the scoring, but neither Jetsada Chudech nor Jirawat Sornwichian could capitalise. The first half was heading towards stalemate when the hosts finally managed to break the visitors’ resistance through an effort by Keattiyot Chalaemkhet. The goal that came after a quick break was an early birthday present for the midfielder, who turned 23 today.
The home side nearly extended their lead with another chance on the break, but Nattavut Madyalan failed to guide his shot on target under pressure from the advancing goalkeeper. The Thais did not have long to wait to double the lead when star striker Suphawut Thueanklang collected a long throw from the keeper, strode forward and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the back of the net from a tight angle. The home team faced a nervy last few minutes after Zuniga, who had a relatively quiet game, cut the deficit with a terrific shot that whistled into the far corner, but Jirawat made the points safe from another counter attack.
In the group’s other match, Ukraine hit back against Paraguay, scoring an equaliser in the closing stages for a thrilling 3-3 draw.
The Thai team will now be eyeing a place in the knockout rounds for the first time, after failing to survive the group stage in their first three appearances in the Cup finals. They next face Ukraine on Sunday.