Thai men’s national football team goalkeeping coach Sasa Todic made an apology on Thursday afternoon, two days after he was accused of demeaning Vietnam’s head coach Park Hang Seo during a match in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers in Hanoi.
Following the 0-0 draw between Vietnam and Thailand at My Dinh National Stadium in the Vietnamese capital on Tuesday night, Park approached Thailand’s head coach Akira Nishino for a handshake.
While post-match handshakes are typically meant as a show of sportsmanship and goodwill, video footage of the event shows Todic making a hand gesture which appears to mock Park’s height.
Seconds later, Park stormed toward Todic and both coaches had to be pulled away from the confrontation by their respective coaching staff.
Speaking at the post-match press briefing, Park complained that Todic spent a good chunk of the game taunting him and by the end of the match he had had enough.
According to Park, after shaking hands with Nishino, he walked over to Todic and told the Serbian, “If you want a fight, I’m ready for it.”
Vietnamese media and fans were quick to back their team’s head coach, firing heavy criticism toward Todic and his inappropriate, unsportsmanlike behavior.
On Thursday afternoon, two days after the incident, Todic spoke up about the controversy, claiming that his behavior had been taken out of context.
“The media said my gesture was meant to mock Park’s height and it was used to stir public controversy,” the Thai-language version of Goal.com quoted Todic as saying in a statement.
“However, another clip shows that interpretation is not true.”
Todic went on to claim that he raised and lowered his hand to signify his prediction that Vietnam will soon be surpassed in the group’s standings by Thailand.
“I affirm that my gesture was not meant to insult anyone. I only smiled and talked about Vietnam’s position on the ranking table,” he said.
|Thailand’s goalkeeping coach Sasa Todic raises his hand while Vietnam’s head coach Park Hang Seo approaches Thailand’s head coach, Akira Nishino, for a handshake. Photo: SMM Sports|
The Serbian then offered an apology to those who, he says, took the wrong message from his gesture.
“Many Vietnamese fans criticized me on social networks after seeing inaccurate information in the media. They can see the picture but don't know the truth. Now that everything is clear, please accept my apology.”
The Thai goalkeeping coach also noted in the interview that he has never had any issues with coaches or players from opposing sides and has the utmost respect for his colleagues and opponents.
“One more time, I apologize for the issue. I want to send my apology to Vietnamese fans, the Vietnam Football Federation, and the Vietnam team,” he underlined.
This is not the first time that tensions have run high following a Vietnam-Thailand match.
During their Group G opener at Thammasat National Stadium near Bangkok in September, which also ended in a goalless draw, both sidfes' coaching staff had an altercation near the pitch.
Vietnam and Thailand, alongside Indonesia, Malaysia, and the UAE, are competing in Group G of the Asian section of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification.
The Golden Dragons currently lead the group, followed by Malaysia, Thailand, the UAE, and Indonesia.