Despite being just 23-years-old, Teerasil Dangda has already clocked up four years of experience as Thailand’s attacking spearhead. Since breaking into the international arena on home soil at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, the Muang Thong United marksman has gradually established himself as something of a talisman with the War Elephants.
Asia's third qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ has seen the emerging star shine brightly on the continental scene, striking twice to date during a campaign which has Thailand well positioned to make an unlikely progression to the next stage, from a group that also features Australia, Saudi Arabia and Oman. A win or a draw against the Saudis on 11 November will leave Thailand on the verge of advancing and, with his country still suffering after extensive floods, Dangda and his team-mates have extra incentive to bring joy to the nation’s burgeoning football base.
"We have worked very hard and the team are on the right track in the qualifying campaign," the Bangkok-born forward, nicknamed Mui, told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "Indeed we have a decent chance to qualify from our group with four points from three matches and we can further strengthen second behind Australia with at least a draw in Saudi Arabia."
Like father, like son
Born on 6 June 1988, Dangda inherited passion for the game from his father, who played with the Royal Thai Air Force. Encouraged by his dad, he began to play football as a seven-year-old together along with his sister Taneekarn, who has also gone on to represent Thailand. "Obviously both my sister and I owe thanks to our father for being footballers," Dangda says.
To some degree Dangda’s career path followed that of his fathers, and in 2005, he also turned out in the Air Force colours in 2005, firstly playing with the youth team before developing into a regular with the first team. The teenager then secured a hasty promotion to the national team soon after linking with Muang Thong in 2007.
Hailed then as one of the country’s promising stars, Dangda made a high-profile move to Manchester City in 2007 alongside his national team-mates Suree Sukha and Kiatprawut Saiwaeo. It was the beginning of a two-year European sojourn during which time he also played with Belgium's Club Brugge and Switzerland's Grasshopper Zurich on loan, a period which he acknowledged as "crucial" for his development.
"The time at City was helpful for me as I gained valuable experiences,” said Dangda. “It helped me step up from the amateur level to the professional level. It broadened my vision and I learned the importance of having the right attitude to further improve myself. Most importantly, it helped me make up my mind to continue my football career.
"I also had to adapt to the European way on discipline and mentality. I learned I had to have self confidence in my techniques and skills and with that I could break through some of Asia’s traditional social values such as seniority. When I came back to Thailand, I knew I just had to play my best football and no longer think about how young I was."
Dangda returned to Muang Thong two years ago and, armed with his European experience, he has been a stand-out on the domestic scene playing an instrumental role as his side won back-to-back Thai Premier League titles in 2009 and 2010. At international level, Dangda has been an integral part of the Thailand team, figuring prominently in their push for the 2010 FIFA World Cup; a campaign which ended at the third stage.
Determined to prove their worth this time around, Dangda and Co. appear a different side under German Winfried Schafer who was appointed only in July this year. Having edged Palestine 3-2 on aggregate to advance to the third round, they nearly stunned Australia in the opener with Dangda scoring a classy opener on the quarter-hour, only for Josh Kennedy and Alex Brosque to score late goals and save the Socceroos’ blushes. Dangda was again on target in their 3-0 home defeat of Oman and, after his side held Saudi Arabia to a goalless draw, the pacy frontman is in upbeat mood as he looks to further success for both country and club.
"I am hoping I can play every match to help Thailand reach the next qualifying round for Brazil 2014," said Dangda with a tone that suggests equal parts determination and desire. "As for Muang Thong, I would like to win every title possible."