Fans of Japan’s Nadeshiko League are used to the occasional foreign player lighting up the local stage. This season, however, a trio of Thailand players have made the unlikely jump from the amateur women’s football environs of the south-east Asian nation, to the premier competition in the land of the reigning world champions.
In doing so, Pitsamai Sornsai, Kanjana Sungngoen and national team captain Naphat Seesraum became the first players from Thailand to feature in the competition, where they turn out in the colours of Speranza FC Osaka-Takatsuki. Having had a taste of the rigours of one of the world’s elite women’s domestic leagues, the trio now allow themselves to cast an occasional thought to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™.
Thailand have been a regular fixture in recent editions of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, and in 2010 they finished one spot away from a semi-final berth, and a shot at qualification for the world stage. Canada 2015 will witness an increase to 24 nations for the first time and, with five Asian nations to qualify, Thailand will be hopeful of a maiden appearance on the world stage. Should they achieve their goal, it could well be that a key trio of players look back on 2013 as the turning point
Casting a wide net
Speranza’s results have been relatively modest in recent years – they have twice been relegated to the second division during the past decade – however they are clearly open minded when it comes to player recruitment. Most international players tend to be sourced from some of women football’s more traditional nations such as China PR, Korea Republic and USA, Speranza though, elected to look outside the square.
“In order to strengthen the team, we had scouted Asian players from other areas [outside East Asia] and the level of Thailand players is high,” Speranza club president Minoru Yokoyama told FIFA.com. Injury to Sornsai saw Thailand skipper Seesraum recruited in June for the second half of the season, following the completion of national team commitments.
For Sornsai, adapting to a Japanese way of life in Osaka took time. “At first, it was quite difficult to adjust myself to the language, atmosphere, food and the way of life,” she told FIFA.com. “Here there are two Thai restaurants and Thai people stay around which makes me feel like I’m living with a family. On weekends we all get together and it makes me happy to feel this warm hospitality.”
Sornsai says that she and her team-mates have improved in the relatively short period since arriving in Japan. “My speed of play, passing accuracy, agility, physical conditioning, technique and tactical awarenesss has all improved from training hard and playing in this league.”
The diminutive Seesraum, who is nicknamed Job, is the most experienced of the trio and has represented Thailand at the 2006, 2008 and 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cups. She also scored twice in May as her side sealed a place at next year’s eight-nation event, where Canada 2015 berths will go on the line.
Historically the Thais boast an impressive record having been crowned Asian champions in 1983 capping what was a golden era in continental terms. The subsequent decades, however, saw Thailand’s status diminish but there are signs they are now on an upward trajectory. “The players are in good condition because of the league,’ says the 24-year-old Sornsai. “We are all inspired and motivated to develop ourselves in the future.”
Australia, China PR, Japan and Korea Republic are strong contenders to claim passage to Canada 2015, while the fifth and final berth seems very much on the line. “Now that five teams have the opportunity to play in the World Cup we are eager to play for that,” says Sornsai. “Playing in the World Cup is my dream that I look forward to making come true.”