Making the World Cup for the first time four years ago was cause for celebration. Reaching the tournament for a second consecutive time removes Thailand from novelty status. Now the team ranked 34th in the world -- the best ranking among World Cup participants not in the top 20 -- will attempt to prove it is really here to stay.
To start with, Thailand would very much like to join Asian confederation peers Australia, China, Japan and North Korea on the short list of 17 countries with multiple wins in the history of the Women's World Cup. And Thailand would certainly like to do it before South Korea, which is also one win shy of joining that club as it also heads to the World Cup.
How they got here
Thailand and South Korea are the only World Cup teams from the Asian Football Confederation that had to participate in the opening round of qualifying (Australia, China and Japan all entered in the final round based on previous results). That meant the road to France for Thailand began way back in the spring of 2017. The first phase was made easier when Lebanon and Guam withdrew from the group, but Thailand still needed a 1-0 victory against Taiwan to avoid elimination two years ahead of the tournament.
The final phase in the 2018 Women's Asian Cup was arguably less stressful. After a blowout loss to China, Thailand rolled to comfortable wins against Jordan and the Philippines to secure a World Cup bid before the knockout phase (it was eliminated from Asian Cup contention in a semifinal penalty shootout against Australia and then lost the third-place game against China).
Thailand isn't a team likely to control possession on the World Cup stage. The blueprint for success is what it did in the Asian Cup semifinal against Australia that saw it fall in a penalty shootout. Australia dominated possession in that game -- the average position for all but three of its players was well inside Thailand's half. But Thailand does have speed and counterattacking skill and isn't afraid to attack, even recklessly so at times.
The biggest problem for Thailand is that it hasn't showed a consistent ability to stop anyone beyond the minnows of world soccer. Since last summer, for example, it allowed three goals against Finland, four against Portugal, four against Italy and three against Nigeria.
Money stat: 10
By beating Ivory Coast in 2015, Thailand became the only team in the history of the tournament to allow double-digit goals (10) in group play and still win a game. No team that conceded that many goals in the opening phase had even managed a draw since the 1999 World Cup.
Players to watch
Suchawadee Nildhamrong: Alex Morgan isn't the only former goal-scoring standout from the University of California to appear in this World Cup. The California-born forward, better known to fans of college soccer as Miranda Nild, finished a productive NCAA career last fall. She was Cal's offensive player of the year as a junior and totaled 13 goals in her time with the Golden Bears. Just 22 years old, she wasn't part of Thailand's World Cup squad four years ago, but she scored twice in the Women's Asian Cup and has been the national team's regular starting striker of late, with 32-year-old veteran Kanjana Sungngoen coming off the bench.
Orathai Srimanee: Not only did the midfielder score Thailand's first two goals in its first World Cup, setting up the win against Ivory Coast, she did so on her birthday (at least measured by the clocks back home). Now along with teammates like Silawan Intamee and Rattikan Thongsombut, she is part of a core who remain starters four years after playing similar roles for the first World Cup team. And wouldn't you know it, by the time the team's opening game against the U.S. kicks off on June 11 in Reims, it will already be her 31st birthday back home.
Thailand was the only team that won a game but didn't progress to the knockout round in the 2015 World Cup. That's because despite the win against Ivory Coast, it gave up way too many goals in losses against Germany and Norway and ultimately lost out on progression due to the goal difference tiebreaker. So, of course, beating Chile in the group finale this time around is a necessity. But how Thailand manages the score in difficult opening games, especially the second game against a Swedish team that isn't always prolific, matters just as much.
"I grew up watching the U.S. women's national team dreaming of being like them. And then I had the opportunity to represent Thailand. It was a difficult decision, but I'm so happy that I made it. With Thailand, the next step of the journey is the World Cup." -- Suchawadee Nildhamrong
"Many players in the team will probably retire after the World Cup, so they will want to do their best in France. The last time we finished 17th, so this time we hope to make it to the last 16, but it will be difficult." -- Nuanphan Lamsam
Chile is a much more difficult opponent than was the Ivory Coast four years ago, and there isn't a lot of evidence that Thailand has shored up the defensive deficiencies it had four years ago. This might be a better team than the group in 2015, but it will head home without a win this time.