Thailand’s Cerebral Palsy footballers delighted their loud and colourful supporters with a convincing 3-0 victory over Myanmar in the gold medal game at Singapore’s National Stadium on Wednesday - and while their success was a team effort there was one man in particular who stood out.
The lively Paisan Saecho scored twice for the Thais, but it was the team’s midfielder Nattapong Wanna who was the heart and soul of his team’s effort.
Nattapong Wanna (in red) in action during the Gold medal match. Photo: Edward See/ SAPGOC
Thailand’s victory follows the national team’s SEA Games triumph, in the same stadium, against the same opponent, in June.
Just as in that game, Myanmar worked hard and showed great determination, cheered on by their incredibly passionate supporters.
Just as in that game, Thailand’s technique, passing ability and tactical organisation proved to be of a higher level, bringing them the ultimate reward.
Nattapong’s long-range effort, in the second half, will remain in the memory, highlighting his ability to shoot from distance. But his contribution was so much more than goal, outstanding as it was.
In seven-a-side football, the ability to be effective in all phases of the game is essential - and no-one did that better in this tournament than the Thai number 4.
In defence, he was strong in the tackle, read situations superbly and was able to sweep up and neutralise Myanmar’s attack.
In transitional play in midfield, his speed helped launch swift counter-attacks, his precise passing brought his team’s attacking threats, particularly Paisan, into the game.
And in his ventures into the attacking third, his powerful shooting and positional alertness made him a real danger to the opposition defence.
“He is the heart of the team,” said Thailand head coach Surasak Tungurant.
“He is a leader in the dressing room and on the field. He urges the team on,” he added.
At just 24-years-old Nattapong is sure to feature in upcoming regional and international CP football tournaments and he can expect plenty more success with a talented Thai team.
“I told them before this final to try to show everything that they have, everything they have learnt in our four months of training for this tournament and throughout the games here - and then I told them they had to run, run, run!” said Surasak.
Run they did.
But running itself is never enough on its own and Myanmar coach Tin Muang Latt had no doubt that Nattapong had been the key factor.
“He’s a very good player, very strong indeed,” he said.