Buayai: Thailand up for challenge of Tokyo 2020
Date: July 8, 2021
The Paralympic Games represents the pinnacle of blind football, with a coveted Paralympic medal around the neck a dream for many, if not all, players competing at the quadrennial event.
On 29 August 2021, Thailand will write their names in the history books as they compete in the football 5-a-side competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics for the first time. They are drawn in group B with World Championships silver medallists Argentina, European champions Spain and African title-holders Morocco.
Thailand finished fourth at the 2019 IBSA Blind Football Asian Championships, missing out on Tokyo 2020 qualification to winners China and runners-up Iran. However, as the Iranian blind football national team withdrew from the competition, Thailand was next in line as their replacement.
Thailand’s captain Parakrong Buayai, a teacher by profession, was introduced to blind football 15 years ago and enjoyed playing goalball as a child. He wore the armband with pride at the Asian Championships and felt Thailand displayed better performances against their rivals:
“Our national team has come a long way. We knew that we were an underdog because of our size and experience, and we had to practice harder. It was a big challenge to play against China and Iran. Even though we lost the game, we managed to give them a good match and only lost by a narrow margin.”
Currently ranked 13th in the world, the Thai blind football team have shown incremental growth since their inception in 2011. In September 2017, they won the ASEAN Para Games for the second time and scooped bronze in their first appearance at the IBSA Blind Football Asian Championships two months later. At the 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships, Thailand announced themselves to the world stage with impressive performances, exhibiting their physical strength and goal-scoring prowess to finish 12th out of 16.
Like many other countries heading to Tokyo 2020, Thailand went 18 months without any competition due to COVID-19. During that period, they made some changes to their technical staff whilst the players competed individual training programmes at home. From October 2020, the national side have been training and lodging together in one extensive training camp which will run up to their departure for the Paralympics.
“The whole team has not been able to go back home since we came together since October. We do not want to take any chance of having any one of our team members contracting COVID-19. But we understand and we have to make sacrifices so that we can practice and improve as a team.” Buayai said.
Thailand returned to international football competition last month at the 2021 IBSA Blind Football World Grand Prix, finishing fourth and defeating Spain 3-2 and France 3-1 in the group stage. Reflecting on the team’s performance, Buayai felt that:
“The World Grand Prix gave us a much boost of confidence since it was confirmed to all our opponents that Thailand is physically fit and up for the challenge for Tokyo 2020. The games that we lost were lost by one goal in each game. Since we have a new head coach, it was his first time experiencing blind football tournament. It was a very good event for him so that he will make some adjustment with our game plan for the upcoming Paralympic Games. We were able to beat Spain in the round robin, which was a good boost of confidence as well because we have played them three times before and have lost all three times in the past three years. Our goal is to be in the top four at Tokyo 2020.”
The football 5-a-side competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place at the Aomi Urban Sports Park from 29tAugust – 4th September.
By Keon Richardson | For IBSA