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Football fans in Burma have had good reason to be upbeat in the last couple of weeks.
First there was the men’s under-20 team, which made history when it qualified for the U-20s World Cup in New Zealand— Burma’s first representatives at a World Cup finals tournament. Although the campaign ended with three successive defeats – to the USA, Ukraine and hosts New Zealand – many positives were taken from the plucky performance of the Burmese youngsters.
Then it was on to Singapore for the SEA Games, where each Southeast Asian nation fielded their best team under the age of 23. The Burmese beat Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, before losing to a well-organised Thailand team in the final on 15 June.
The following day, Burmese fans again went through the agony of watching their national side losing out to a classier and better equipped team when they went down 2-0 to South Korea in a World cup qualifier in Bangkok – no disgrace as the Koreans are regarded as one of Asia’s best ever squads and a regular competitor at World Cups. In fact, the South Koreans made the semi-final of the competition in 2002 when they co-hosted the tournament with Japan.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Burma’s coach Radojko Avramovic agreed that a 2-0 defeat to the mighty Koreans was “not too bad”. He highlighted the defense’s lack of focus at a free kick for the first goal, arguing that “otherwise the result could have been better”.
The fact that Burmese managers can even begin to compare their teams with South Korea and Thailand is testimony to the advance in the game throughout the country in recent years. Burma is now a football-mad nation, with armchair aficionados of the sport indulging in not only an aspiring national league but also following the English and Spanish leagues on TV.
As for developing a strong national team that could one day qualify for a major championships, surely the success of the U-20s and U-23s point to a bright future.
It was notable on Monday that the Thai players were well organised and confident on the ball, passing it around like a well-versed European team. This comes from an institutionalised football training programme that begins at school. Skills, tactics, technique – all these qualities must be taught to kids while they are young. Clubs must be developed for youngsters – competitive leagues at U-11, U-12, U-13 level, all age groups, boys and girls.
Football is not an expensive sport compared to so many other pastimes. Children just need a ball with air in it. They find an open space, throw down some bricks or shirts as goalposts and away they go. Speed, skill and confidence can all be attained at a young age.
The Myanmar Football Federation has helped to build stadia, while several investors and sponsors have taken to supporting and promoting some of the main teams in the Burmese league.
But how far from success is Burma? The national team is surely able to compete with the Thais, the Koreans, the Japanese; but can we win? Can we achieve the consistency needed to qualify for the Asian cup … or, dare we say, the World Cup one day?
What do you think? What steps must be taken to develop the ‘beautiful game’ in Burma? And what chances does the national team have of taking to the stage at the greatest show of all – the World Cup?
Please answer the DVB Poll below – then write your opinions about how you believe Burmese football can succeed in the future.