Lertchai Issarasuwipakorn has seen his fair share of matches, coaches and tactical set-ups come and go. The defender has been around since way back in 2004 and his career path has mirrored the explosive growth of Thai futsal. Twelve years on, the 5'10 (1.78m) stopper is still marshalling his country's backline, as he did impressively during their FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 opener against Russia.
The rest of the team could not be accused of leaving the veteran to his own devices in defence. In fact, they arguably shared the workload too much. Seemingly suffering from stage fright and over-awed by the reputation of their opponents, his normally more forward-thinking team-mates all too often sat back alongside him, rather than taking the bull by the horns higher up the pitch. The upshot was that Russia were given free rein to play the game on their terms and quickly surged into the ascendancy. Miguel Conde was less than impressed by his charges' collective rearguard action.
"The coach was really angry at half-time," Issarasuwipakorn said. "He took us to task. We were lacking a cutting edge up front. Since he arrived, he has placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of pressing the opposition and not just trying to keep a clean sheet at the back. We let the Russians do their thing too much in the first half."
Had it not been for a stunning strike from hotshot Suphawut Thueanklang, the Russians might have been out of sight by the break. As it was, Conde was able to find the right words and make the necessary tweaks to turn the tide in the Thais' favour in the second period.
"We were smarting. We felt that several tactical adjustments needed making," said Issarasuwipakorn. The effect was immediate: right after the restart, the Asians drew level at 3-3 courtesy of a nine-second double whammy. World powerhouse Russia, among the pre-tournament favourites for the title, were taken aback as Thailand finally went toe to toe with them, much to the Chonburi Blue Wave player's pride.
With every tournament we up our game a notch.
"We have improved slowly but surely ever since I started out," Issarasuwipakorn said. "With every tournament we up our game a notch, as shown by us reaching the Round of 16 on home territory in 2012. We just want to carry on our progress in Colombia."
Details make the differenceWith a new domestic league, new structures in place and experienced foreign coaches having come on board, Thailand has established itself as a leading force in Asian futsal at club level over the last decade. Now the national team are dreaming of following suit.
"We're not far off, as could be seen against Russia," Issarasuwipakorn said. "We were completely overwhelmed by opponents of that calibre in the past. Today we saw that it all hinged on a few small details."
Indeed, ultimately it came down to a sprinkling of luck and the Russians' greater experience as the Europeans eventually claimed a hard-fought 6-4 victory.
"We made the changes that we had to in the second half, but we just didn't get the rub of the green later on," added the stalwart, his calm and collected tone conveying the sense of perspective that comes with having been through it all before.
In spite of his status, Issarasuwipakorn was nevertheless keen to downplay his influence and was adamant that he and the squad's other elder statesmen do not command extra clout – let alone privileges – in the dressing room.
"Everyone is on an equal footing," he said modestly. "Only the coach has the authority to impose his views. Even though I have experience to share, I prefer not to seek out others, although it's always a pleasure to give advice when they come to me,"
Without the strictures of a rigid hierarchy, the Thai players constantly dialogue and troubleshoot together. "We communicate a lot. Above all we try to fine-tune things to sort out any problems, as could be seen with the turnaround against Russia. We nearly pulled it off," said Issarasuwipakorn, exuding confidence that these efforts will pay off in their next match this coming Tuesday. Cuba beware.