BANGKOK - Amid the gloom of political turmoil, Thailand's women's football team put smiles back on faces at least for a moment by clinching a berth, their first, in the Fifa Women's World Cup in Canada next year.
Wednesday's fifth-place play-off match against hosts Vietnam in the AFC Asian's Women Cup was a final of sorts for both sides, with a ticket to Canada at stake.
Despite playing under the added pressure of events off the field, the Thais emerged victorious 2-1 from a nerve-jangling contest to snatch the fifth and final qualification spot for next year's 24-team finals.
The celebrations continued on the flight back home, as attendants welcomed the overnight national heroines by popping open the champagne as the plane came into land at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Nualphan Lamsam, the team manager credited for the upturn of the team's fortunes since taking over the post, was the first to emerge from the arrival gate, followed by national coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian and members of the staff, holding a portrait of His Majesty the King.
Waiting members of the press quickly mobbed Nualphan, who found herself at the centre of a media scrum. She patiently gave interview after interview to television cameras, while the players were all smiles at the reception inside the passenger hall.
Nualphan then took the role of poster girl for the success as she and her players danced joyfully to the tune of Thai drums in front photographers jostling to capture the moment.
"I'm really proud of the team's achievement. It was our dream to make it to the World Cup finals. How confident were we yesterday? It was 50-50 because Vietnam had the same goal as us and the game was played in front of their crowd. But everyone fought for the country."
Midfielder Kanjana Sung-ngoen, who grabbed both goals to help the Thais claim the World Cup spot, was still struggling to come to terms with the team's success.
"I'm so happy, that I don't have the words to express my feelings. The moment the referee blew the final whistle I couldn't hold back the tears, I was thinking of His Majesty the King. We all had the King in our thoughts. We believe he was part of the reason for our success."
Kanjana, who has represented the country from youth level, said the team sang the royal anthem before the Vietnam match, which fired them up.
"It really helped us a lot. In fact, we sing the royal anthem before every game. We all love [the King] so much and he inspired us to this success."
The incentive fund for the team currently stands at Bt15 million, Bt10 million of which came from the Football Association and the rest from Nualphan.