Thailand keep Olympic dream alive

Thailand have joined China PR, Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Korea DPR in making up the list of six teams set to compete for the chance to represent Asia in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012. Thailand were the last side to make it through, courtesy of a 3-3 draw with Vietnam yesterday at the King Abdullah Stadium in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

The final round of the qualifying competition is to be held in China from 1-11 September 2011 and will use a one-round league format, with the top two teams booking their passage to the Games in the English capital next year.

Last-gasp qualification
Going into Sunday’s match, Thailand needed a single point to secure a berth in the final stage of AFC qualifying for London 2012 while opponents Vietnam were chasing victory. Their previous qualifying form suggested Thailand should record a straightforward success, only for Vietnam to storm into a two-goal lead after only 12 minutes.

Thailand battled back to level the scores at 2-2, only for the Vietnamese to score again and take a 3-2 lead into the half-time break. Needing to find another equaliser to secure the point they needed to remain atop the table, the Thai women left it late, with midfielder Wilaiporn Boothduang slotting home in the 84th minute.

After enduring a frantic Vietnamese barrage in the closing minutes, featuring a number of close calls, the Thais made it over the line to top the second round of AFC qualifiers with seven points. And coach Piyakul Kaewnumkang was clearly delighted with the result: “We’ve worked so hard over the past few months to ensure we gave the best possible account of ourselves in the qualifiers and book a place in the finals. We knew our opponents were strong but we’d no idea what would happen.

“After beating Jordan 7-0 and Uzbekistan 5-1 we were probably favourites to go through, but the final game against Vietnam was pretty tricky. I’d like to congratulate the players for the effort they put in today and throughout the qualifying tournament so far. We’ll try and step up our preparations now because we’ll be competing against some of the strongest sides on the continent. I just hope we can perform to the best of our ability in the final round.”

Dark clouds over Jordan
Host nation Jordan’s failure to make it past the second round was no great surprise, but the nature of their defeats and lacklustre displays did raise eyebrows. Many observers expected Jordan’s women to at least show glimpses of the talent that had earned them a reputation as one of the Arab world’s top female teams in previous tournaments.

However, not only did they sink to consecutive defeats against Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, 7-0, 3-0 and 1-0 respectively, their failure to notch even a single goal provided cause for grave concern. “The side were hit by a number of injuries and enforced absences, with some players unable to take part for academic or family reasons,” justified their Dutch coach Hesterine de Reus.

“There’s a huge gulf in quality between women’s football in Jordan, which is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that of the more established national teams. These qualifiers should be seen as part of up-and-coming young players’ preparations; a way of gaining experience for future tournaments.”

Statistics tell a tale
Although this qualifying battle was fought down to the wire, with only a point separating leaders Thailand and runners-up Uzbekistan, the statistics suggest the points’ column may give a misleading impression of parity. Indeed, the Thais struck 15 goals in three outings, while conceding only four, three of which came in their last match against Vietnam.

Second-placed Uzbekistan managed to score six goals but let in six, a symmetry matched by Vietnam, who scored and conceded five. Finally, at the bottom of the table Jordan’s forgettable performance was reflected in their stats of zero goals scored and 11 conceded.