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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 7, 2006

Thailand seeks fans help for World Cup qualification

BANGKOK, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Stung by a series of disastrous World Cup qualifying campaigns, Thailand is turning to its soccer-mad fans for help in taking the team to the 2010 finals.

Low on ideas but high on passion, the Thai government launched a campaign on Thursday asking fans how Thailand could join Asian powers such as Japan and South Korea in reaching the finals for the first time in South Africa in 2010.

The government also called for an urgent shake-up of the sport and ordered soccer chiefs to include supporters in their 'road map' to the tournament.

'We have to play at the highest level in Asia, up with South Korea, Japan and Iran, and we only have two years to work at that,' national team coach Charnwit Polcheewin told Reuters.

'The football authorities and the government want the public involved because we need to find a solution to our problems.'

The beleaguered national side -- arguably Southeast Asia's best -- has left fans with little to cheer about recently after the team suffered embarrassing first-round exits from the World Cup, Olympic Games and Asian Cup qualifying stages.

The sport attracts a fanatical following in the Kingdom, with millions glued to their televisions and radios to catch international and English Premier League matches.

But the domestic game is struggling to get off the ground, with club teams playing in near-empty stadiums.

DEAD END

Two years ago, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a scathing attack on the Thai game, saying it 'had come to a dead end' after the national side failed to get to the Olympics.

Charnwit believes the 'road map' could give the team a much-needed boost ahead of the qualification rounds in 2008.

'We hope it will improve our players as individuals, improve their technique and their commitment,' he said.

'It's going to be difficult, but if we can improve fast in the next two years, we could be in with a chance.'

But not everyone in Thailand is optimistic about 2010 World Cup qualification.

'We don't stand a chance,' said Samkan Chartprasert, a bank employee from Bangkok.

'We have no money for that. Besides, Thai players are too short and they can't shoot.'