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Tiffany Sornpao’s unique road to playing for Thailand in 2019 Women’s World Cup

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Some young players would be frustrated and discouraged to be sidelined at the world’s biggest soccer stage, but 21-year-old goalkeeper Tiffany Sornpao is not one of them. That’s because her road to becoming a member of Thailand’s women’s national team is a tad unusual.

“My dad took a gamble and sent my stats and highlights of my previous college season [to the Thailand team], he told them ‘hey, she’s half Thai, she is interested’,” Sornpao told NBC Sports. “Luckily they replied and ask me to come in and try out.”

So, Sornpao decided to seek her fortune in a foreign land.

“I was pretty nervous. I didn’t really know what to expect at the national level, but I really had nothing to lose,” she said. “I either made the team or had to come back and keep training.”

For Sornpao, who has experienced the rigors of playing NCAA Division I soccer at Kennesaw State University, the intensity of the national tryouts did not come as a surprise. It was the camaraderie and unity of the team during this competitive time that truly stood out to her.

“I was really shocked, coming in [to a team] there’s always competition even though it’s a team, but the first week I was there they just welcomed me and guided me [in the right direction].”

Shortly after tryouts, Sornpao was called up for international duty.

After the FIFA Women’s World Cup draw, the Thailand women’s national team was put in Group F along with Sweden, Chile and the United States. Thailand’s opening match was against the USWNT, which everyone knew would be daunting. Some even questioned if Thailand would have made it to the world stage if it wasn’t for North Korea’s troubles back in 2015, when the team was banned from the World Cup after five players tested positive for steroids.

Nevertheless, the Thai weren’t looking for a free pass, and this year, more than ever, they were prepared to face adversity.

“We knew from the start that the U.S. was going to be a challenging game because of their history. [We know] they’re a very good team. So, it was more about going in confident and taking everything we practice and try to perfect it within the game,” Sornpao said.

Even though Thailand was not competitive against the U.S., losing 13-0 in the biggest defeat in World Cup history, the loss gave the team a useful lesson.

“A big thing with us is that the Thai team doesn’t get much of a chance to explore and play many outside countries other than within Asia,” Sornpao said. “So, I think a big issue is the lack of experience against European teams and the U.S. I think a big issue was preparation.”

The lopsided score of the Group F opener in the 2019 Women’s World Cup became a controversial topic of discussion. Many people questioned the sportsmanship of the U.S. team after celebrating each one of their goals, but that wasn’t the case for the Thai.

“It was more comforting to have them appreciate every goal that they scored rather than just making it seem like it was an easy pass into the net,” she explained.

For Sornpao, this level of soccer was a reality check. “Being on Thailand’s team and coming from the States has opened my eyes to all the different advantages and disadvantages these countries go through,” she said.

More than anything, Sornpao now has a deeper appreciation for the resources and support that the United States has. “The Thai team has a disadvantage by not having these things [technology]. But even then, they’re still in the World Cup, so it is very comforting to see development,” Sornpao explained.

But the lack of proper investment was not the only challenge for the Thailand team. For the players, personal finances were another obstacle to overcome. Nualphan Lamsam, the team’s now former general manager, tried to take this issue into her own hands.

Lamsam, also the chief executive of one of Thailand’s largest insurance companies, resorted to employing players as sales representatives for the company, and continued to compensate them during the season, so they could concentrate on the game.

Lamsam and coach Nuengruethai Sathongwien resigned following Thailand’s disastrous showing at the world stage, but Sornpao still aims to make an impact with Thailand’s team down the line.

“I’m seeing how they build from this World Cup. They’ve gotten so much help and so much recognition that I think helping them develop and expand would be great,” she said.

As for what’s next for Sornpao, she is excited to bring what she learned from her World Cup experience back to her team at Kennesaw State, where she plans to play for the next two seasons, before trying to pursue her dreams of turning pro.

Coric, Khachanov progress in Halle Open

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HALLE, Germany — Defending champion Borna Coric outlasted Portuguese qualifier Joao Sousa 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-6 (4) to reach the quarterfinals of the Halle Open on Wednesday.

Coric, who defeated Roger Federer in last year’s final, saved seven of the nine break points he faced and took his match point after a 26-shot rally to beat Sousa in just under 3 hours.

The 14th-ranked Coric next faces France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who earlier defeated Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 in their second-round match.

Karen Khachanov defeated home favorite Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 at the grass-court tournament, a warm-up for Wimbledon.

Khachanov, ranked a career-high No. 9, hit 11 aces and converted two of his seven break chances to win in 1 hour, 43 minutes. The Russian will next face an Italian, Stuttgart Open champion Matteo Berrettini or Andreas Seppi.

David Goffin defeated Radu Albot 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 and awaits the winner between the second-seeded Alexander Zverev or American Steve Johnson, who play on Thursday.

Nine-time champion Roger Federer also returns Thursday against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. Tsonga won their only previous match on grass, at Wimbledon in 2011.

Tour director says race won’t be same without Froome

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PARIS — The Tour de France just won’t be the same without four-time champion Chris Froome in the field, race director Christian Prudhomme told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Froome was injured last week in a crash in France that left him with multiple fractures. He let go of his handlebars to blow his nose and hit a wall at speed.

“Clearly, it changes things,” Prudhomme said. “The Tour de France with Chris Froome and without is not the same thing. He has been the central character since, we’ll say, 2013.

“So other scenarios are going to open up.”

Defending champion Geraint Thomas was also hurt in a crash this week at the Tour de Suisse. The 33-year-old Welshman required stitches above his eye but he is still expecting to defend his title.

“Luckily I’m all ok,” Thomas wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “It just means I’ll need some big training rides next week now.”

The setback cast further uncertainty over Team INEOS, formerly known as Team Sky, which has won six of the last seven Tours. Bradley Wiggins won in 2012, while Froome took the title 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and Thomas last year.

But with Froome out and Thomas recovering, that could open the door for 22-year-old teammate Egan Bernal.

“Of course, Dave Brailsford’s team will weigh on the Tour de France, as in previous years. But will it do so to such an extent and in the same way?” Prudhomme asked. “I imagine that he, Dave Brailsford, is asking himself lots of questions, too.

“Who will be the leader? The evidence, logic, dictates it will be Geraint Thomas, of course,” Prudhomme said. “But will that still be the case after his crash? There are lots of question marks. But we know that Egan Bernal is ready, it seems to me.”

After an impressive win at the Paris-Nice race in March, the Colombian then also crashed in training in May. He broke his collarbone, ruling him out of the Giro d’Italia. But he is racing at the Tour de Suisse and Prudhomme expects that the mountainous terrain of the Tour will play to Bernal’s climbing strengths. This year’s Tour will be the first with three stages that finish on summits above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), where the thin air will sap riders.

“We’re going very high this year,” Prudhomme said. “But nearly all of us believe that the Colombians won’t be less strong at 2,000 meters and Bernal, obviously, is Colombian.

“At first glance, on paper, it cannot be unfavorable for Bernal,” he added. “He is super-talented in the mountains. He can attack from far out.”

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