Can Myanmar’s Soccer Teams Win at SEA Games?

By The Irrawaddy 19 August 2017

Kyaw Kha: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss Myanmar’s national male and female soccer teams competing in the 29th SEA [Southeast Asian] Games in Malaysia. I’m Irrawaddy reporter Kyaw Kha, and former soccer players of the national teams Ko Myo Hlaing Win and Ma Aye Aye Maw join me to discuss this.

Myanmar’s men’s team played against Singapore on Monday and Laos on Wednesday. Myanmar is not in the “group of death.” Ko Myo Hlaing Win, what is your assessment of the prospects for the Myanmar men’s team?

The Irrawaddy discusses the chances of Myanmar’s soccer teams winning the 29th SEA Games in Malaysia.

Posted by The Irrawaddy – English Edition on Friday, August 18, 2017

Myo Hlaing Win: We reached the final in the last SEA Games. We were trounced by the reigning champion Thailand, and lost by five goals to nil. But this year, our team is composed of those who took part in previous [SEA] games and young players like Aung Thu and Than Paing of Myanmar’s [Under 19] team, which qualified for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup two years ago. So it can be said we have the best squad this year. Luckily, our Myanmar team was drawn into the group of host Malaysia, along with Singapore, Laos and Brunei. Arguably, Myanmar is in the easiest group. Myanmar overpowered Singapore and did not concede a goal in its first match on Monday, which was important for Myanmar to advance to the next stage. So, there is potential for Myanmar to advance to the next stage as the group leader though Myanmar will meet the host Malaysia in the final match of the group. On Monday, Malaysia beat Brunei 2-1. It conceded a goal. So commentators have tipped Myanmar for the final.

KK: Commentators call another group the “group of death” and say Myanmar is in the “group of ease.” The Myanmar women’s soccer team played against Thailand on Monday. There are only five participating teams in women’s soccer and they will play against each other in a round robin [tournament]. In the group are major rivals like Thailand and Vietnam and host Malaysia. So, is it a tightly contested tournament? Do you think Myanmar is a strong enough squad to challenge for the title?

Aye Aye Maw: Luckily, age is not limited for the women’s soccer team unlike the men’s team [which is an Under 22 team].

MHW: It is an open tournament.

AAM: It is open, meaning the team is a combination of experienced and young players and hopefully the experienced ones will lead the younger ones. People have long talked about the Myanmar women’s team clinching the gold. We also want the gold and have therefore made preparations for a long time. Luckily, the women’s team had the chance to play many friendlies before the SEA Games. But then…

KK: Myanmar has to play against Thailand, Vietnam and the host Malaysia. Do you think Myanmar will be able to overcome them?

MMA: Myanmar would inevitably meet them in all contests. It can be said that they are old friends or old rivals. Malaysia has also made good preparations in recent years, but I don’t think they will be able to catch up with the rest this year. During our time, the Philippines managed to draw almost level with us. We just won by a goal in 1995. So, we can’t underestimate the Philippines either.

MHW: They have developed skills.

AAM: Yes, they have. Again, they are very strong.

MHW: They are physically stronger.

AAM: Yes, they are. Though their soccer skills are not good as ours. But we also have a strong squad, and only Thailand and Vietnam are our major rivals, I’d say.

KK: What would be the major challenge for the Myanmar women’s team in the round robin?

AAM: All the teams will wait for the other side to make a mistake in order to take advantage. You could say that our first match with Thailand is the final. But then, we can’t underestimate Vietnam. Vietnam regained independence only after us, but they have good game strategies.

KK: Ko Myo Hlaing Win, you were an exciting striker who played in the starting line-up of the Myanmar national soccer team for more than a decade. What are the differences in the challenges of being a player now and then?

MHW: Mainly it is about facilities. We didn’t have good facilities then. In our time, the SEA Games was the only major sports competition. We had had to wait for two years to play in each [biennial] SEA Games. We trained and played one or two friendly matches between the SEA games. Then, we had very limited facilities in terms of sports equipment, accommodation, and meals. The budget was very limited compared to now. In our time from 1993-95, not every household had a television [to watch the matches].

Now, people have got their eyes open. And I think players are making greater progress. Yes, they are because they are supported from all perspectives. Today, players have full facilities for training. There are balls for each player. In our time, there were only three to five balls for around 30 players. Now, if there are 30 players, there are 30 balls, and they also get adequate training suits—I mean the national teams.

As Ma Aye Aye Maw has said, preparations are made for more than one year before the SEA Games. A foreign coach is hired, and the team plays friendlies and hold joint training [sessions] abroad. They are accommodated at hotels and provided with wholesome meals. There are huge differences now and then in that regard though the strong morale is not different.

Soccer was professionalized then and it all depended on actions of the player for his success. In our time, we were also professional because we had had to dip into our pocket to eat and to go training. We had had to take the public bus—cling onto the crowded [Toyota] Hilux—to go to training. We had had to buy boots and wholesome food with our own money. Today, players have air-conditioned rooms and washing machines in their hostel, and there is a ferry bus to take them to the training ground. Plus there is buffet for them. They have very good facilities compared to our times.

KK: Ma Aye Aye Maw, do you think the Myanmar women’s soccer team will be able to clinch the gold?

AAM: It depends on their morale. If Myanmar beats Thailand, there will be a big chance to win the title.

KK: Ko Myo Hlaing Win has shared his experiences. Ma Aye Aye Maw, what are the differences for Myanmar women players now and then? There has been a slogan in our country—“Myanmar Sports—the World to Conquer.” Some have made fun of it. According to your experiences, what will be the requirements for Myanmar soccer to overcome the challenges and see the golden future?

AAM: As Ko Myo Hlaing Win has said, there are complete facilities for players now. The most important thing is the morale. They must have a fighting spirit in playing each game, with their eyes firmly fixed on the gold medal. Then they will be able to clinch victory.

KK: Ko Myo Hlaing Win, you were the striker for the Myanmar national team for over ten years. But after the emergence of professional soccer leagues, players only play for the national team for a period of time and then disappear. Why do you think this is? What are the differences between now and then? Some strikers and midfielders were tipped as potential driving forces of the national team. But some disappeared within two or three years. Why?

MHW: There was not much recreation and entertainment in our time compared to now. We could only sit at tea shops and listen to music played on cassette players. Today, there are a lot of amusements and players who cannot control themselves will deviate from their path. This is what I think. In my time and later, there were players as good as me. But they deviated from their path. In our time, because of the lack of facilities, my friends from outside Yangon whose skills were even better than mine went back to their native townships in consideration of their livelihoods. I could focus on soccer because I live in Yangon.

Today, we have good players too. But as Aye Aye Maw said, it depends on their fighting spirit. They have to instill themselves with that spirit. Like what is taught at the classrooms, they have to try to make themselves good. Only then will they be able to support others. Now, we have talented players like Aung Thu and he can pair with Kyaw Ko Ko in the national team. We can now rely on him even when Kyaw Ko Ko retires. He has also made his name as a good striker in the SEA Games. But then, we can’t rely solely on him. Other teammates must have the necessary skills to assist him.

KK: Thank you for your contributions!

In the latest results from August 18, Myanmar (Under-22) beat Brunei (Under-22) 6-0.