Football: Thais edge closer to World Cup qualification dream

BANGKOK - Thailand revelled Friday in a draw against Iraq that propelled the War Elephants into the final World Cup qualifying stage.

The dramatic 2-2 draw in Tehran late Thursday handed the Thais the point needed to top Group F in the second qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The joint-qualifier also secured Thailand's place in the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

The tense match saw Thailand seize the lead with five minutes remaining, sending the clutch of visiting fans in the Tehran stadium into a frenzy.

Iraq levelled with the final kick of the game in injury time, but it was not enough to unseat the Thais from top spot.

A spokesman for Thailand's military government hailed the "fun and exciting" game Friday and passed on congratulations from junta chief and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

Prayut will "cheer the Thai team in the next round," the spokesman added.

The president of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), ex-police chief Somyot Poompanmoung, also doled out praise in a Facebook message to fans after the game.

The team fought well and didn't buckle under "pressure from the home fans," said Somyot, who was voted into the FAT presidency last month after running on campaign to clear the league of corruption.

"Thanks to all the footballers and staff for making Thais happy," he added.

Thailand's mens football team have never made the World Cup. But the team has crept up the FIFA rankings in the last few years, from 133 last year to 118.

Thailand are among 12 teams in the third qualification round.