Highway Robbery Foiled: Port Futsal Club 5-3 Department of Highways FC

 

It’s mid-December 2017. Chonburi Bluewave have won seven league titles in a row, and hold a slim advantage over second placed Port Futsal Club with just two games of a closely fought season remaining. Despite Port’s point deficit, the final day clash against their biggest rivals means that two victories in their final two games will see them become champions for the first time since 2007. Port’s next opponents sit third in the league, and their visit to Kodang Stadium promises to be a severe test for the title pretenders.

On that day in 2017 Port shot out to a lead against Bangkok BTS, before their dogged opponents clawed the tie back in to the balance, snatching a late goal to level the scores with just seconds remaining on the clock. In the dying moments, Port were to be denied a stone-wall penalty resulting from an accumulation of six fouls. This injustice understandably sent the home crowd in to a frenzy in which advertising hoardings were pushed over, coins were thrown and the referee escaped round the back of the stadium before being evacuated to widespread boos and verbal abuse from the home faithful. It rendered Port unable to close the gap on the final day, and to add insult to injury the final home game was moved to a neutral venue.

Fast-forward just a few days shy of a year…

It’s mid-December 2018. Chonburi Bluewave have won eight league titles in a row, and hold a slim advantage over second placed Port Futsal Club with just two games of a closely fought season remaining. Despite Port’s point deficit, a game in hand means that two victories in their final two games will see them become champions for the first time since 2007. Port’s next opponents sit fourth in the league, and their visit to Kodang Stadium promises to be a severe test for the title pretenders.

Department of Highways Futsal Club are the opposition – a well-drilled side who bring a healthy number of fans to Kodang Stadium. It’s a sell-out, the first I’ve seen in Port’s hot-box warehouse, with people perched on the edge of the terraced stands behind the goals, and those without anywhere to sit hunched over the advertising hoardings. The atmosphere is hopeful. And loud. Very, very loud. There are drums both in ‘Zone B’ where I sit, just a few meters down from the black-clad ultras, and in ‘Zone C’, where Spiderming holds court, and a bullhorn of course, with the usual suspects.

Port’s fans can’t inspire their team to the kind of fast start they were hoping for, though. The Highways take the lead, despite the ball appearing to go out of play in the build-up, as two Port defenders can’t make their mind up who to mark, leaving space for an attacker to slot the ball in to Kanison Phoopan’s (18) bottom corner.

With Port backs well and truly against the wall a swift response was needed, and boy did they provide it. Brazilian Marcos de Mendonca (10) provided the near instant response, with a ball from the right finding its’ way in to the back of the net off his midriff. Compatriot Rian Gomes (20) soon got in on the act, with his incredible laser-like strike from distance flying past the ‘keeper, slamming in to the net via the stanchion and sending the Port crowd in to ecstasy. Gomes wasn’t finished yet, though, although the credit for his second and Port’s third belongs squarely with veteran Lertchai Issarasuwipakorn (6). His change of direction on the left sat the goalkeeper on his arse, before his deft backheel sent the ball across the goal line where Gomes was on hand to turn it in from just centimetres out.

 

 

The Highways were not to go down without a fight though, and they obviously thought that the situation – even mid-way through the first half – was desperate enough to warrant a radical change of tactics. Now, any regular viewer of futsal is familiar with rush-goalie tactics, when an outfield player takes the field in a goalkeeper’s shirt to add an extra attacker, while obviously putting themselves at great risk of being caught out on the break. It’s not unusual to see this tactic deployed by a team facing a deficit in the final few minutes of a match, but neither I nor my fellow fans have ever seen this used in the first half. These guys really wanted it.

As it turned out, they displayed some of the most effective use of the 5 man attack that I’ve seen, led expertly by captain and former Chonburi and Thailand midfielder Kiatiyot Chalarmkhet (32). Keeping possession while probing for an opening, The Highways tested Port’s defence until just before half time when they finally made the breakthrough, although once again the ball seemed to have been dragged out of play by the attacker, before it was eventually turned in by a sliding Highwayman.

 

 

A Port goal was also ruled out, causing some serious flaring of tempers from both benches. Several rough challenges punctuated the final minutes of the half, with Port perhaps fortunate that the referees missed a flying elbow from one of their players.

Come the second half, come that same sinking feeling that those who witnessed the second half collapse against Bangkok BTS last year wish they could forget. The Highways continued with their 5 man attack, and with less than 7 minutes left on the clock they finally drew a mistake from the Port defence. Normally reliable Port and Thailand defender Chaivat Jamgrajang (7) was a little unlucky with a low ball across the box, failing to sort out his feet and turning the ball in to his own net to level the scores at 3-3.

Incredibly, The Highways still continued playing the 5 man attack, but it was to be no match for a reinvigorated Port being roared on by an increasingly anxious and belligerent Kodang Stadium. It was more fine work from Marcos that created an opening which Thananchai Chomboon (17) couldn’t fail to take advantage of from close range, but much more impressive than his goal was the celebration which followed. The best way I can describe his reaction is to liken it to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s assault on Conor McGregor’s team after their MMA fight earlier this year. Thananchai leapt feet first in to the netting separating the fans and the court, somehow finding, losing then regaining his balance on top of the flimsy barriers while wildly cheering fans grabbed hold of the hero of the hour. I’m not going to lie. I was one of them. What a moment! Witnessing the passion showed by so many of the Port faithful being reflected by the players is always great to see, and it was clear from that moment that Port were not going to let their opportunity be taken away from them a second time.

 

 

There was still time for Gomes to get his hattrick, turning in a fizzing cross from the left, before Port protected their lead expertly, defending like their lives depended on it. Huge celebrations, tinged I’m sure with more than a little relief, greeted the final whistle, confirming the 5-3 final score. The curse of 2017 has been exorcised, and now 8th place Bangkok City are all that stand between Port and that elusive Futsal Thai League trophy.

 

 

The final game of the season is unfortunately an away clash, but it’s an easy enough game to make it to. Bangkok City are based in the Thai Japanese Youth Centre in Din Daeng which Bangkok United called home from 2009-15. It’s this coming Saturday 15th December at 14:00. The gravity of the occasion as far as Port is concerned is sure to mean that a very sizable traveling army will descend on Bangkok City, making a Port-friendly atmosphere which will surely turn in to a party for the ages if The Port Lions prevail and are crowned champions.

 

 

My advice is simple. BE THERE!

 

Tom Earls

Tom Earls

Having moved to Thailand aged 10, Tom has been playing or watching football in Thailand for more than 18 years. A keen follower of the Thai National Team and an avid fan of Port FC, he is a regular contributor to The Sandpit.

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