It was a case of “so near and yet so far” for Burma on Monday night as the men’s Under-19 football team was narrowly defeated 3-2 by Qatar in a thrilling Asian Cup semi-final in Rangoon.
Burma went into last night’s game knowing that they had already clinched a spot as one of Asia’s four representatives in next year’s U-20 World Cup to be held in New Zealand. However, having been disciplined to the sum of US$24,000 by the Asian Football Confederation just the day before owing to hooliganism in previous games, the onus was on the home team to put on a good show.
Qatar went into the semis unbeaten and manager Felix Sanchez Bas had reason to be confident, such was the depth of their squad and power in attack. That offensive strength was evident early on in the match when Burmese goalkeeper Myo Min Latt was called into action to pull off a series of good saves.
The Burmese lads had looked to have held out for the first 45 minutes, but in injury time Almoez Ali put the Qataris in front.
Burma came out revitalized after half-time, and on 60 minutes, Aung Thu curled a thrashing shot into the top corner from the edge of the box, sending the Rangoon faithful into raptures. The atmosphere hit fever pitch a few minutes later when Nyein Chan Aung met Aung Thu’s free-kick perfectly to slam Burma into a 2-1 lead.
But the dream was not to last. Burma took their foot off the pedal and allowed Qatar to come forward. Inevitably, a goal came; this time it was Akram Afif who netted with a free-kick.
At 2-2 after 90 minutes, extra-time was called, and in the very first minute of the restart Qatar again took the lead. As the match progressed, no one can deny that the Qataris looked the stronger outfit. However, Burma fought bravely and came oh-so-close in the dying seconds to getting an equaliser that would have taken the match to penalties.
In the end, the country will applaud the young Burmese for a heroic tournament. Officials will also be grateful that Burma’s fans maintained their composure in what was an intense atmosphere and that there was no repeat of the silly tantrums that followed the defeat to Iran last week.
Qatar now go on to play North Korea in Thursday’s final, while Burma will have time to get ready for the 2015 World Cup which starts on 30 May.