Thailand's football team made a triumphant return from Malaysia after ending a 12-year wait for the coveted ASEAN Championship title in the most dramatic fashion, with ten thousands of fans lining streets in Bangkok to cheer the team's open-top bus parade yesterday.
The turnout at Don Mueang Airport was much bigger than when famous European clubs like English Premier League heavyweights Manchester United or Liverpool, who both have a big fan base here, visited the country on pre-season tours.
It spoke volumes about how much the victory meant to Thai fans, who last saw the country lift the trophy for the biennial tournament in 2002. Many arrived at the airport with joy at winning the event for the fourth time, after the Thai side secured a nerve-jangling 4-3 aggregate triumph over 2010 victors Malaysia the night before.
It could have been a completely different scenario if coach Kiatisak Senamuang's side had been unable to stage a dramatic fightback in the closing stages of the second leg of the final at the intimidating Bukit Jalil stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
The Thais had looked dead and buried after the Malaysians, backed by a full-house at the 100,000 seatvenue, stunningly overturning a 2-0 first-leg deficit to surge ahead 3-2 in the tie with half an hour remaining.
Bagging the title
However, they managed to dig themselves out of the hole when Thai-Swiss midfielder Charyl Chappuis knocked home a rebound after the Malaysian keeper parried a Thai free kick with ten minutes left on the clock. Small midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin then ensured the Thais came home with the title with an unstoppable shot from just outside the edge of the box.
Fans from all walks of life, some travelling from upcountry, braced the afternoon heat to greet the returning heroes at Don Mueang's private jet building. The trio who were most instrumental to the Thais' success - coach Kiatisak, Chanathip and Chappuis - were among the first group to emerge, sparking a deafening roar from their adoring fans.
Amid loud cheers reverberating around the compound, the players sauntered to a waiting bus decked in national colours with the words "Champions of ASEAN".
A Thai player was seen holding up an image of His Majesty the King, who the team said had assigned his principal secretary to make a call at halftime to give them support.
The Thai team will present HM the King the trophy today at Siriraj Hospital, where he has been admitted to receive treatment.
The bus carrying the Thai team then embarked on the parade, through downtown Bangkok and ending at Supachalasai Stadium. Along the way, a large group of fans on motorbikes followed the parade honking their horns, while fans cheered on the roadside.
The fourth ASEAN trophy, which matches the most success also achieved by Singapore, earned the Thai players a big pay-day - some Bt33 million in prize money and incentives from the Thai FA and sponsors.