Friday, November 25, 2016


Myanmar Eye First Semi Final Berth Since 2004

In the niche world of ASEAN football writing the Philippines, hardly known for their prowess in the game, garner plenty of headlines from a media, including me, comfortable with the names associated with the team; Dooley; Younghusband; Hartmann. 

Myanmar on the other hand are an unknown quantity. Yes, former Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic worked there for a while, and he has been wisely bought in as a pundit by the AFF Suzuki 2016 broadcaster, but for the rest of us Myanmar is a place of mystery with an alphabet that seemingly consists of circles and semi circles and players with names like Ye Ko Oo and Aung Thu. There is one player in their current squad who plies his trade overseas, Kaung Sett Naing who plays over the border in Thailand for Samut Sakhon but the rest are homeboys playing for clubs like Magwe, Yadanarbon and, more familiarly, Yangon United.

Hosting Group B Myanmar, or the White Angels, didn't start the campaign well, losing 2-1 against group favourites Vietnam but recovered from going a goal down against Cambodia to win 3-1 with the aforementioned They are now second, level on points with Malaysia but edging them thanks to a superior goal difference and the two teams meet Saturday in the archetypal winner takes all clash at the Thuwanna Stadium in Yangon.*

Win or draw and Myanmar could be entering the semi finals for the first time since 2004 when they lost to Singapore over two legs. They had finished top of their group in Malaysia after securing the following results

08/12 Philippines v Myanmar 0-1 (S D Thien 90)
10/12 Thailand v Myanmar 1-1 (Z L Tun 89)
12/12 Malaysia v Myanmar 0-1 (Soe Myat Min 20)
16/12 Myanmar v Timor Leste 3-1 (S M Min, 4, S D Thien 43, M H Win 51)

The first leg of the semi final was played at the KLFA Stadium and the Lions took the lead through evergreen defender Daniel Bennett on 20  minutes but Myanmar levelled thanks to S M Min on 34 minutes and two minutes later were in the lead when defender M Thu scored. Singapore had scored 10 goals in their four group stage games, a much more freescoring vintage to the current crop who have yet to score in 180 minutes of play and within two minutes Agu Casmir levelled. 

The second half saw Singapore take the game to the White Angels and Noh Alam Shah gave them a 3-2 lead before Shahril Ishak made it 4-2 with nine minutes left. The White Angels weren't done however and Finance & Revenue striker S M Min scored his second of the game and his fourth of the tournament to give the Myanmar team hope in the second leg to be played at Kallang Stadium, 

Min scored again early on to level the score on aggregate and when A K Moe made it 2-0 on the night, 5-4 on aggregate the Myanmar support were celebrating what would surely be their first final appearance. Sadly for them Noh Alam Shah pulled one back 16 minutes before the end to take the game into extra time where the Lions fitness told. He went on to complete his hat trick and Agu Casmir added one more to rub salt in the wounds to end Myanmars dreams, exiting 8-5 on aggregate.

Myanmar players angry with ref. AFF Suzuki Cup 2008 v Indonesia
Min netted one last time in the Third Place Play Off to finish with six goals in the tournament but who really cared as Malaysia went on to win 2-1. For Myanmar the dream ended in front of the famous Kallang Roar but surely that team, inspired by Min, must go down in the nation's history as one of the best in the last 40 years or so, a depressing period for local fans who have not had much to get excited about.

There have been moments for Myanmar football. They won the Asian Games in 1966 and 1970 and were runners up in the far more prestigious Asian Cup in 1968, admittedly at a time when it lacked the glitz and glamour of the modern era. They also lifted the SEA Games on five successive occasions from 1965 to 1973. But it wasn't until the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup that they ventured into football's biggest event of all, highlighting the years of isolation that cloaked the nation for so long.

Beat Malaysia and the current crop would be able to look the 2004 vintage in the eye. 20 year old striker Aung Thu may have a long way to go before he can be placed on the same lofty pedestal as Min but his two goals in the tournament have marked him down as a player to watch in the future.  A semi final berth would mean facing favourites Thailand over two legs, surely a chance at least for the White Angels to star in the shop window. And as one pundit said recently, a couple of Myanmar players in the SLeague could add a couple of thousand to the moribund attendances there.

We may be a long way from seeing Myanmar the power they were in the 1960s but the current generation will be hoping place in the AFF Suzuki Cup semi finals will be a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

* In fact Malaysia's cabinet is to discuss withdrawing the national team from the AFF Suzuki Cup in protest at the ongoing trouble against the Rohyinga people. This could be tricky for Malaysia as it may well be seen as political interference by FIFA who are currently getting their knickers in a twist over England and Scotland wearing poppies at a recent game, deeming that to be political. 

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