Thailand defeats New Zealand to win IFAF Asia-Oceania Flag Football’s Men’s Gold Medal

Somehow, managing to catch balls soaked and barely visible in torrential rain at the end of the men’s final, Thailand came from behind to edge New Zealand 31-25 to be crowned IFAF Asia-Oceania Flag Football champions.

Trailing 13-6 at halftime, Thailand pulled level with the Kiwis at 13-13 and 19-19 then saw their slim lead wiped out as New Zealand equalized at 25-25 with two minutes remaining.

The rain had drenched all within the EV Arena Shah Alam in Malaysia by that point and it was an execution of plays worthy of a champion that earned Thailand the continental crown.

Two incomplete passes were excusable given how difficult the conditions had become, but Phithaya Saranloet hit Wuttikorn Harnwongphaiboon with a pass deep into New Zealand territory. Then on third down, four yards from the end zone on the last play of the game, the pair connected again for the winning touchdown to spark wild celebrations and finally defeat the dogged New Zealanders.

Thailand had won the Group B meeting between the two teams on Saturday and finished with a 4-0 record, earning a bye to the semifinals where they saw off the challenge of Australia 48-21. New Zealand pulled off an upset when after winning a quarterfinal against Kuwait by one score, they shocked unbeaten Group A winners Japan 40-33 in a game that surely couldn’t be beaten for drama. But it was.

In the final, Isiah Laulu had earned New Zealand an early lead, but Thailand responded immediately as Natthan Julawatcharapong’s athleticism took him past two tackles for a touchdown. Harvey Godwin batted down the extra point attempt.

Photo: @UmarShafiz

New Zealand’s defense then held firm on two Thai possessions and the offense extended the lead to 13-6 when Laulu caught his second score of the game.

Pattadon Assarasakorn hit Darius Chirasanta with a laser pass at the back of the end zone after the break and a sidearm pass to Keta Rene tied things up at 13-13. A Jack Preston touchdown made it 19-13, but back came Thailand with Chirasanta breaking a tackle on a run from midfield to score.

The tension was palpable with the clock ticking down and every possession valuable. This time the Thailand defense stepped up and offensively Julawatcharapong made an amazing grab in coverage with quarterback Assarasakorn under pressure. The heavy rain began and a deep pass down the left sideline to Chirasanta produced a touchdown despite the receiver fending off double coverage.

It was now 25-19 in Thailand’s favor, but the determined Kiwis, despite an illegal forward pass and fumbled snap, drove downfield, survived a nervy juggled catch and leveled the score at 25-25 as Jackson Te Huki connected with Adam Blake.

Then came the two-minute warning, more rain and the Thailand winning drive.

Men’s Championship Game

Thailand 31 New Zealand 25

Men’s Semifinals

Japan 33 New Zealand 40

Thailand 48 Australia 21

Men’s Quarterfinals

Australia 33 vs Malaysia 31

Kuwait 26 New Zealand 33



Michael Preston (@PRMikePreston) is currently working with IFAF in a PR capacity. He recently covered Super Bowl LVII as a member of the NFL PR team as he has done for 20+ years. He has held communications positions with NFL Europe, the North