Hermans: Thailand can spring a surprise

Victor Hermans has achieved much in a four-decade Futsal career and the Dutchman intends to add another notch to his belt, when he leads host nation Thailand into next month’s FIFA Futsal World Cup.

As a player Hermans won five club championships in the Netherlands and earned 50 international caps. He capped his 23-year playing career with an adidas Golden Ball award in the inaugural FIFA Futsal World Cup Netherlands 1989, as the host side finished runners-up. Since then, the Dutch icon has embarked on a coaching career, with Hong Kong, and then Malaysia, at the global showpieces of 1992 and 1996 respectively, before guiding Iran to the AFC Futsal Championship title in 2001.

If you think strong, you can play better.
Thailand futsal coach Victor Hermans

Thailand became his latest national coaching job when Hermans took up the reins back in March. With a strong track-record, he appears confident of leading his side to history in next month's tournament.

"When I first met my players and staff, I asked what they wanted to achieve," the 59-year-old told FIFA.com. "The answers were clear: to win the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Tournament and AFC Futsal Championship, and to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup."

Indeed, the last-eight goal at Thailand 2012 appears a tall order for the hosts, who have never progressed beyond the group stages during the past three Futsal world finals that they have competed in. In fact, no Asian side - aside from Iran - have achieved that feat.

Winning mentality
Hermans, though, keeps faith with his charges. And his confidence is by no means unfounded, considering that the Thais accomplished their initial mission by winning the ten-team AFF competition in April, and went all the way through to the AFC Futsal Championship final, only to lose out to Japan.

Most notably, the War Elephants stunned Iran 5-4 in the semi-finals to mark their first-ever win against the Asian kings in the continental finals, a result which provides Hermans with much food for thought.

"The victory boosted our morale,” he said. “Our players made consistent progress game by game. After beating Lebanon [in the quarter-finals] we had the feeling that we can win against any team, including Japan in the final, although we lost. I hope such experiences can bolster the players' confidence going into the World Cup.”

Catching the most attention has been striking prodigy Suphawut Thueanklang, who finished as the tournament’s joint top-scorer with seven goals, including a treble against Iran.

"He is a brilliant player," Hermans says about the 23-year-old. "I am surprised that he is not playing in Europe. It is great that the World Cup offers him and our other players a chance to showcase their talents in front of the watching world."

Gradually and steadily, Hermans has instilled a level of confidence in the team. Even an 8-0 thumping by world champions Spain in August didn't dented the team’s mentality. "Playing against the world stars, they looked up to the opponents and so they were overwhelmed,” said Hermans. “But when they recovered mentally they improved much with a 6-4 loss in the second game. If you think strong, you can play better."

Thailand opens against Costa Rica on 1 November in Asia’s third FIFA Futsal World Cup, before taking on European giants Ukraine. Awaiting them in the closing group game is none other than South American powers Paraguay.

"We expect no easy games in the World Cup,” said Hermans. “All our rivals are strong. Our strategy is to focus on a game at a time. When Thailand have the confidence, they can be a surprise in the World Cup. Such a belief is important also for the Futsal future in this country, as well as for Asia.”