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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!

 

Shrugdinho and The Mudskippers: Port Futsal Club 5-1 Samut Sakhon

 

With the 3 week T1 mid-season break now upon us, sad live sports addicts like myself who feel incomplete without their weekly fix of shouting at people are faced with a tough decision. Do we let the unfulfilled urge to vocalize our deep-seated disdain for humanity fester and force its’ way out at a particularly inopportune moment? At the 7-11 cashier who under-heats that morning sandwich, perhaps? “You don’t know what you’re doing! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Or maybe a phone-zombie on the BTS? “Even fucking Pakorn gets his head up more than you do!” Surely there must be an alternative…

With this cumbersome conundrum weighing heavy on my mind, I thought it would be the perfect time to take in my second Port Futsal game of 2017. As I reached Port’s warehouse stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Port’s current kit was on sale outside. At 598 baht for a shirt, 300 for a scarf and 100 for your ticket you can be fully kitted out in Port regalia for less than a thousand baht. Not bad!

The Mudskippers!

Having made sure to arrive early this time, I found a prime position in a near-empty Zone B. Just high enough up to get a decent view of the action, but still in range of a fan. A big improvement on last time’s sweat-fest! Port’s high-flying futsal stars faced Samut Sakhon, with Port in 3rd place – just 3 points off the top of the 14 team Futsal Thailand League – with 5 games to play before the mid-season interval. Port’s superbly nicknamed opponents are The Mudskippers, who have skipped up to 5thplace. I expected a hard-fought game, and the first half didn’t disappoint.

Port’s Brazilian star Marcos (10) looked excellent from the off, although in the early action he was playing predominantly in defence, with Thai national team star Lertchai (6) pushing further up. I was gutted not to see Noppadol (13), who had scored a hattrick and busted out some Ketsbaia-level celebrations in my last game, but his replacement up front was the bulky and useful-looking Sarawut (11). Midfielder Watchara (3) and Thailand goalkeeper Kanison (18) completed the starting 5, but curiously Port seemed determined to use their best players as little as possible.

After Watchara had tapped in a simple set-piece goal for Port inside the first minute, the fringe players saw most of the action. The action was pretty slow in happening, though. In contrast to the attentive ball-boys we’re used to seeing in T1, futsal ball-boys have the look of students in detention. Mopping up other people’s sweat will have that effect, I suppose. It probably didn’t help that pantomime villain Surat (2), The Mudkipper’s keeper, was playing them like a fiddle. Whenever the ball went out of play he immediately called for a ball from one side. As it was reluctantly slow-rolled in his direction he would turn around and demand a ball from the other side. Waiting patiently for the other ball-boys to wake up and trickle another ball towards him, he would then pretend to try and take a quick throw, but be foiled by the extra ball on the pitch. He fooled the time-keepers a few times with this maneuver, as they started the clock while he was still fiddling with his balls, but the Port faithful were having none of it, and chants of “Oi, Oi, Tarua Woi!” are soon echoing off the walls of the warehouse. It would be rude not to join in! Port 1-0 Mudskippers

All around Bangkok I felt the innocent Bangkok bystander breathe a little easier knowing that I’d reached my weekly abuse quota. That’s probably not much of a consolation to Surat, though. At the other end, Port’s stopper Kanison (18) seemed determined to throw the ball as far as possible whenever he had it. Without Marcos (10) and Lertchai (6) on the pitch to move the ball through midfield, route one was too regularly the preferred option, and it wasn’t pretty. Nevertheless, in the seventh minute (on the clock, although it had probably taken about 30 minutes) Port doubled their lead. A rare passing move lead to an exhibition in close control by Anukul (22), and although he couldn’t find the finish his dribbling skills deserved, Thananchai (17) was on hand to volley in the rebound. Port 2-0 Mudskippers

Samut Sakhon, egged on by their chief MudSkipper (8), began to really get in to the game. Port managed to survive a few waves of attack, but in the 15th minute, a Port defender felled the excellent Sittichai (9) just as he was about to pull the trigger, and the ref blew for a penalty. It seemed pretty clear-cut to me, although that didn’t stop Marcos pulling out some of the most expressive shrugging I’ve ever seen by way of protest. Port pulled out all the stops, even employing the tactic the Dutch used to great effect in the World Cup quarter-final, where Tim Krul was brought on as a specialist penalty stopper. Before pacing around the area and caressing his goalposts a worrying amount, Port’s sub stopper was easily beaten by Sittichai, who rifled his penalty in to the bottom left hand corner. Krul trudged back to the bench, where he would stay for the remainder of the match. Port 2-1 Mudskippers

 

 

There was still time for more action before the half ended, and it was Port’s Shrugdinho himself Marcos in the thick of the action. With just a few minutes left, Marcos single-handedly decided he was going to draw as many fouls as humanly possible, and it wasn’t long before he had put The Mudskippers on 5, one away from the crucial 6 which would mean a 10 meter penalty kick for Port. Ironically, after all of Marcos’ cheeky gamesmanship, it was a genuinely quite nasty challenge that gave Port the penalty. Surpisingly (to me, anyway) Marcos stood aside and allowed Sarawut (11) to blast the shot in, but from 10 meters beating the keeper is far from academic. Sarawut struck the ball firmly, but the ‘keeper reacted well to palm the ball away and keep The Mudskippers within a goal. The dozen or so away fans cheered, the Port fans groaned, and Marcos shrugged.

 

The Mudskippers try their best to stop Shrugdinho

 

About half way through a competitive second half, The Mudskippers lack of discipline came back to haunt them again. A second yellow card was awarded to Mudskipper number 19 for a desperate lunge on Sarawut (11), and with Samut Sakhon down to 4 players, it was only a matter of time before Port made the advantage count. Sure enough the 4 man resistance was broken by Anukul (22), who had been so unlucky not to score in the first half. This time he beat Surat with a firm strike in to the bottom left from outside the area. Port 3-1 Mudskippers

At 2 goals down and with 6 minutes left on the clock, the Mudskippers decided it was time to go for broke. Out came a rush-goalie, who skipped around in front of Kanison (18) trying to create confusion. It took less than a minute for Port to punish their opponents on the break though, and it was Sarawut (11) who finally got the goal that his battling performance deserved. Whilst he did give his celebration some welly, he’s no Noppadol… Port 4-1 Mudskippers

 

 

The Mudskippers continued to bomb forward, resigned to a loss but determined that every Port player should score before the game was over. It was Port Keeper Kanison’s turn, and he took advantage of an empty goal to hit a mighty accurate drop-kick from his own area, which flew over the rush-goalie’s head and took one bounce on it’s way in. Port 5-1 Mudskippers 

For those interested in coming along to one of Port’s 4 remaining games, the fixtures can be found here.  Port’s next home game is on Saturday 10th June against 10th place Nonthaburi, and kicks off at a pretty convenient and hopefully not to roasting time of 18:00.