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Thailand’s football prodigy ignites hope of first FIFA World Cup appearance

Thailand’s football prodigy ignites hope of first FIFA World Cup appearance

In the pulsating world of football, there are moments that transcend the game itself, moments where a single act of brilliance becomes a beacon of hope for an entire nation.

For Thailand, such a moment unfolded in a packed Seoul World Cup Stadium during FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifiers on March 21, when Suphanat Mueanta etched his name into the annals of history.

Seeking their first-ever appearance in a World Cup, Thailand found themselves locked in a tense battle with Asian footballing giants South Korea.

It was 21-year-old Suphanat who rose to the occasion, delivering the crucial goal that secured a hard-fought 1-1 draw. Beyond the scoreboard, his goal symbolized a resurgence of Thai football’s indomitable spirit.

Suphanat’s strike not only earned Thailand a valuable FIFA qualifying point but also marked a remarkable milestone.

He became the first Thai player in 26 years to find the net against a South Korean team in a competitive fixture since Thawatchai Damrong-ongtrakul achieved the feat during the 1998 Asian Games.

Yet, when asked about his achievement, Suphanat humbly shifted the spotlight to the collective effort of the team rather than individual success.

“Actually, it didn’t matter who scored the goal,” Suphanat remarked with modesty. “I’m happy that we got a point against Korea. The momentum happened to shift to me. I was lucky that the ball came my way, and I have to thank my teammate for the assist.”

‘Birth of a star’

Suphanat’s journey to national hero status is a testament to his dedication and talent. Rising through the ranks of Buriram United’s youth academy, he made history by becoming the youngest player to grace the Thai League at just 15 years and 8 months old.

He continued to shatter records, becoming the youngest goalscorer in Thai League history (against Air Force United in 2018) and subsequently making waves in the AFC Champions League by scoring a goal against Beijing Guoan at 16 years old and eight months in 2019.

A stint with Belgian Pro League club OH Leuven enriched Suphanat’s experience further, as he showcased his adaptability and skill on the European stage.

Suphanat embarked on a one-year loan deal with OH Leuven on September 5, 2023. Before the move, he was training with parent club Leicester City while awaiting a work permit.

Finally, on November 1, 2023, Suphanat made his eagerly anticipated debut for OH Leuven in the seventh round of the 2023–24 Belgian Cup against Elene-Grotenberge. Just three days later, he stepped onto the pitch for his league debut against Westerlo.

In June 2019, Suphanat received a call-up from head coach Sirisak Yodyardthai to join Thailand’s squad for the 2019 King’s Cup.

His international debut arrived on June 5, 2019, in a heated match against arch-rivals Vietnam, where he made history by becoming the youngest player ever to wear the national team jersey at the age of 16 years and 10 months.

Fast forward to January 2024, and Suphanat continued to shine, earning a spot in Thailand’s squad for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup held in Qatar, solidifying his status as a rising star in Asian football.

As Thailand braces for the next phase of its qualification journey, Suphanat embodies the nation’s hope for a debut World Cup appearance, igniting the country with his resilience, talent, and humility.

With the return leg against South Korea due at Rajamangala National Stadium on March 26, the stakes have never been higher.

A win or another hard-fought draw against the Asian soccer powerhouse would not only bolster Thailand’s spirits but also enhance their chances of clinching their first-ever berth in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.

With Suphanat leading the charge, the Thai team carries the dreams and aspirations of an entire nation, eager to witness their footballing heroes inscribe their names in history.

Despite his pivotal role in securing the draw, Suphanat remains grounded, acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead. Looking ahead to the rematch, he emphasized the need for thorough preparation and resilience.

“The game against Korea on Tuesday will be tough as they will try to beat us on our home ground,” Suphanat said. “We have to prepare a game strategy to play against them.”

By Thai PBS World’s Sport Desk

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