The road to Russia for World Cup 2018 has begun and Japan kicked off their AFC Qualifying round 3 Group B campaign with a couple of games recently. Following a shock, controversial home defeat to the UAE they then travelled to Bangkok to take on Thailand and Tokyo Fox was lucky to be in attendance too.
Having originally assumed the match was taking place at the centrally located National Stadium, I was informed a few days prior to the game that it was actually at the far less convenient Rajamangala Stadium which is not easy to get to and from as we would later find out! From Ramkhamhaeng station on the airport rail link, we hopped on the back of a motorbike and sped along the roads weaving in and out of the capital city’s congested traffic for about 15 minutes. It was one of the highlights of this trip and I felt like I was in some kind of movie chase scene!
For a long time now I have really wanted to see the Japan national football team play live but work commitments and the difficulty in getting home tickets always makes it an impossible feat. However, once the fixtures were announced earlier in the year I set my sights on using this game as a chance to revisit a city we both enjoyed so much back in 2013/2014.
Super Mario hats were very much the order of the day for one group of Japanese fans (below) which was no doubt some kind of homage to Prime Minister Abe appearing as the character at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics.
There was a good atmosphere around the stadium for the hours before the game but I wasn’t able to enjoy it all as I had to try and meet my ticket provider at a very vague location without the benefit of wi-fi. It really is hard to believe how we ever used to meet up with each other back in the dark ages before mobiles came along!
The kindness of some Thai people left a big impression on me thanks to this match. One bloke let me use his mobile phone to try and call my man but there was no answer! Eventually, I got talking to a few Thai guys (below) and one allowed me to use his wifi and then I discovered that my guy had found my wife at the meeting point and she had the tickets. Such relief!
Inside the stadium was so hot and sweaty as we finally took our (unreserved) seats about 30 minutes prior to the 7:15 pm kick off. As ever with Japanese football matches it is such a pain to find a seat under such circumstances as small items are left on seats to reserve them and people put their bags on the seat beside them to save someone from sitting next to them. We didn’t even get seats together at first but eventually the guy next to me noticed I was going off to see my wife a couple of times and so he moved along to make room for her. A nice gesture but if people like him did that from the outset then many more people would be able to secure a seat instead of having to stand at the back or sit in aisles which is ridiculous.
Thailand is certainly no footballing hotbed but their fans were fantastic throughout the game creating so much noise and the drummer(s) to our right never let up all match. It was quite a sight during the Thai national anthem as the whole stadium resembled a Jean Michel Jarre concert as everyone seemed to be holding up some kind of lights. I can’t believe they’d be lighters and don’t think people were just holding their mobile phones aloft! Some spectacularly huge flags were displayed too.
No sooner had the teams entered the field and the national anthems had been sung (below), and then the heavens opened up as indeed they did in the evening every night we were in Bangkok! It wasn’t until the match kicked off that I realised Leicester’s samurai guy Shinji Okazaki wasn’t even playing which was a little annoying but certainly wasn’t going to ruin it for me.
A header by Genki Haraguchi from Hiroki Sakai’s cross after 18 minutes broke the deadlock and it was 1-0 at half-time. Wave after wave of attacks rained down on the Thai goal but that second goal just wouldn’t come. The Samurai Blue missed chance after chance and unbelievably the War Elephants (yes, that really is the nickname of the home team!) had a one-on-one chance to equalise in the 70th minute but keeper Nishkawa raced out to save the day.
Eventually the game was put to bed by Asano Takuma 15 minutes from time and a fair few decided that was a good point to leave to beat the race for taxi’s. Some people had even started leaving with 20-25 minutes to go which seemed a bit over-the-top but in hindsight may not have been such a bad idea given what happened on the pitch after that (nothing!) and the difficulty in 44,500 people getting away from the stadium.
Final Score: Thailand 0-2 Japan
We didn’t hang about too long at the final whistle and walked away from the stadium without much direction or aim but when the rain continued to get harder and harder we tried to get a taxi but ultimately failed. The rain eventually got so heavy that we had no choice but to take refuge in a tented restaurant which was kind of a blessing in disguise as we desperately needed some food. The young Thai waitress showed us so much kindness as, despite not knowing too much English, she used the internet on her phone to show similar images of some dishes. Luckily for her we weren’t too fussy about what we would eat at that time!
Thunder and lighting followed throughout our time there but we left at about 11pm and managed to get a shared taxi outside on the street with some Thai lady to Hua Mark Station. It was gone 12:30 by the time we finally arrived back at our hotel. It was all quite the adventure though!
Click here to read ‘Thailand 2016 Pt II: Dining Out In Bangkok’