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Australian fans behaved themselves in Bangkok on Tuesday – in the Rajamangala Stadium at least.
There had been plenty written about what would happen in the mourning period that has followed the death of the much-loved and long-lived King Bhumibol on October 13.
As all know, it was initially not going to go ahead at all in Thailand but then was allowed with a ‘no cheering’ restriction. The Thai FA backed down on this because – unofficially – there were concerns about what would happen when the Aussies cheered as all knew they would. This is football after all.
One Thai official told me that it was just not workable and was a potential security threat – how would the Thai fans and police react if they are sitting silently and the visitors are cheering a 30-yard screamer?
The end of the first month of mourning the day before the game also made things a little easier and more relaxed. In almost all ways, life in the capital was pretty much back to normal with a few more black shirts than usual and black ribbons sported on arms or chests – quite a few Aussie fans had these on too.
If that timing was a little fortunate then the same could be said of the Socceroos who were second best for much of a really good game to watch. There was a certain amount of complacency among some fans and journalists I talked to – perhaps understandably given the fact that Thailand had lost all four games before Tuesday – but this is a talented team.
In the past, Thailand have given Asian giants too much respect but that was not the case against Australia, especially pleasing for the home fans after the visitors took an early lead.
There was tenacity and energy that provided the foundation for the skill to make a difference and give the Aussie backline some real problems. The second away penalty was questionable and there could not have been many complaints had the War Elephants won 2-1.
What many don’t realise is that some of these opposition players in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia are often major stars. I stayed at the same hotel as the Thai team and the likes of Chanathip Songkrasin and Kawin Thamsatchanan are mobbed many times a day. And there were hundreds of fans waiting to greet the team bus after the game.
It seemed as if the Aussies knew they had dodged a bullet. Given that the Thais have lost all four games, it may have felt like two points dropped, but it could have been much worse.
Perhaps after three straight draws, there is a little pressure creeping in. The road to Russia is looking a little rockier than after the UAE win in September.
Coach Ange Postecoglou was patient with all the post-match questions from the Bangkok press about how good the Thais were and who were the best players (such press conferences are common all over Asia and it does get pretty parochial) before politely pointing out that he was coach of Australia and the Thai coach was better suited to asking Thai-related questions.
When he finally did get one about the defensive problems caused by the Thais, Postecoglou got a little defensive himself. He did go on to say that the second half of the stage is much more comfortable with three games of the five remaining at home.
It is true that Australia are still in a strong position but six points dropped in the last three games reduces the margin for error further down the road especially given how tight the group is.
On Tuesday though, the game, the emotion and the spectacle were a privilege to witness. The Thais were happy and full of pride and Australia should be too.
This is the Asia that Australia wanted when it joined: a meaningful cultural experience for all with a vibrant atmosphere and a determined team asking all kinds of questions.
And this is the Australia that Asia wanted: determined, professional, aggressive but sensitive to, an respectful of, the local culture and sensibilities.
They may have been second best on the pitch, but off it, players, coaching staff and fans did the country proud.