Thai fans catch football fever

Thai fans catch football fever
Suttinan Phuk-hom (No 5), Tanaboon Kesarat (No 17) and Narubodin Weerawatnodom (No 13) are in pursuit of Malaysia's Norshahrul Idlan during the first-leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final at Rajamangala Stadium late yesterday.

Football frenzy swept across Bangkok yesterday when Thai fans from all walks of life turned out in droves to get behind the national team, as they bid to reclaim the ASEAN Championship title that has eluded them for more than a decade.

Public interest in the Thai football team had subsided following years of underachievement, but there have been signs of a revival of interest since September following the strong display by the national under-23 side at the Incheon Asian Games.

The success in South Korea, where the Thais equalled their best result in the event by finishing in fourth spot, brought back some of the feel-good factor around the national team, before their sparkling performances in the group stage of the Asian Championship sparked a dramatic surge of interest in the public.

The whole country has been gripped by football fever since Thailand won all three of their group matches, which took place in Singapore last month, to qualify for the semi-finals as Group B winners.

The hype was there for all to see when supporters flocked into Rajamangala National Stadium last Wednesday to see Thailand claim a 3-0 second-leg win over the Philippines, a result which set up a title showdown with Malaysia.

With only 2010 winners Malaysia standing between the Kingdom and the title, the buzz surrounding coach Kiatisak Senamuang's team was only going to get more intense.

Tickets for the first leg of the final at Rajamangala were snapped up by fans less than an hour after they were put on sale last Friday.

Despite the Malaysia fixture being announced as a sell-out, hundreds of fans arrived at the venue in the morning yesterday in the hope of getting tickets, as it had been rumoured that the remaining tickets from those allocated for away supporters would be put up for sale.

Meanwhile, scores of fans queued in a long line at the Grand Sport Hua Mark store to buy the national team's replica shirts.

Given the high demand for tickets, touting was inevitably rampant, with one tout posting a photo of tickets with the caption "Each priced at Bt1,000 No negotiation", which was almost three times higher than the face value of Bt350.

At the venue, a group of supporters held up signs with anti-touting slogans, one reading "Don't tease Thai fans' faith", while a man was arrested and fined Bt1,000 by the police for touting tickets. He was later released.

Security was tight at the stadium, where officials were more diligent about checking fans after the Philippines match was marred by fans associated with a group called "Ultras Thailand" lighting flares - a practice banned by the regional governing body, the ASEAN Football Federation.

Fans waited in a long queue several hours before the gates were opened ahead of the 7pm kick-off. By the time the game started, the stadium was already full of expectant supporters, in scenes reminiscent of the Thai team's heyday in the 90s.

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