‘No stars, No Problem’ for Burma’s Young Footballers

By Hnin Yadana Zaw & Timothy McLaughlin 12 June 2015

RANGOON — When Burma’s footballers left for the Southeast Asian Games without their two star attractions, Yangon United duo Kyaw Ko and Kyi Lin, few expected them to return from Singapore with a medal.

But the under-23 side, coached by 1993 silver medalist Kyi Lwin, have captured the nation’s imagination by storming through to the semifinals unbeaten, stirring hopes of a first football gold at the biennial multi-sports games since 1973.

They take on Vietnam next on Saturday at Singapore’s National Stadium, where victory would ensure at least a silver medal for The White Angels.

A sizeable crowd of Burmese fans is expected at the 55,000 capacity stadium with many more watching back home and adopting the rallying call “No Stars, No Problem” after their opening 4-2 win over Indonesia and then 2-1 success against the hosts.

The slogan followed the victories that were achieved despite the high-profile absentees, who were kept back in Burma for the World Cup qualifying campaign, which began on Thursday with a 2-2 draw in Laos.

The SEA Games squad has also been weakened by the absence of other talented young players who were knocked out of the ongoing under-20 World Cup in New Zealand last week.

Undeterred, the SEA Games squad ploughed on and thrashed Philippines 5-1 before sealing the top spot in the group by storming back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with Cambodia in the final minute.

The President’s Office even threw its support behind the team, with an official sharing a picture of President Thein Sein watching the victory over the Philippines on Sunday that quickly spread across social media.

Elsewhere, local businessmen in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, made donations to build a massive screen outside the Mandalay Palace to watch the upcoming match against Vietnam.

The support for the side is in stark contrast to the last SEA Games in 2013, when coach Park Sung-hwa blamed “a misunderstanding of the rules” as the highly fancied team crashed out on home soil at the group stage following defeat by Indonesia.

Angry spectators then invaded the pitch as others tore down banners and destroyed plastic seats in the stadium in Rangoon, while fans outside set ablaze billboards, SEA Games flags, hats and T-shirts with rioters throwing stones at police.

“For a very long time we could never be proud of Myanmar soccer teams,” said Myat Thura, a popular football pundit for SkyNet Sports.

“I think that is why the whole country is supporting them heartily this year. They are doing really well.”

Head coach Kyi Lwin said his team were ready for Saturday’s semifinal despite four energetic displays of high pressing football in a punishing nine-day schedule.

“We are confident to reach the final, we work very hard,” he told reporters through a translator on Friday.

“We have already prepared for Vietnam, we are ready.”