Football: Withe's Thai triumph

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER Aston Villa and England striker Peter Withe was hailed as a hero in Thailand after inspiring the national team to a sensational 2-1 win over the joint 2002 World Cup hosts South Korea in the Asian Games quarter-finals.

Withe shared the glory as ministers acclaimed the performance and newspapers gave front-page treatment to Thailand's finest win in international football.

It was Withe who introduced substitute Thawatchai Damrong-Ongtrakul late in the game with instructions to shoot on sight.

And it was Thawatchai whose thunderous 30-yard free-kick six minutes into extra-time gave Thailand, who were down to nine men, their famous "golden goal" victory which set up a clash with Kuwait in the semi-finals.

"A fantastic performance. I could not have asked anything more from the team. They never gave up," Withe said, waving the national flag with his cheeks also painted in Thai colours.

The Thai-language newspaper Krungthep Turakij credited the win to Withe playing Queen's victory anthem "We are the Champions" in the dressing- room before the match.

Withe came to Thailand as part of a deal with the English Football Association. Sir Bobby Charlton and the Sports Minister, Tony Banks, are due in Bangkok this week to lobby for England's 2006 World Cup bid and step up links with Thailand's football authorities.

Conversely, the South Korean supporters and media blasted their team's attitude, saying the players were over-confident and "stuck-up" following their recent victories. The team reached the World Cup finals in France.

The South Korean head coach, Huh Jung-Moo, offered an apology, saying he was sorry for the "disappointing" game. "But we will take it as an expensive lesson and start preparing for 2000 Sydney Olympics," he said.

The former German World Cup-winning captain and coach, Franz Beckenbauer, has been appointed head of the campaign committee for World Cup 2006.