In the end, it was an unflattering scoreline and a disappointing World Cup campaign, but Burmese fans will take solace from the fact that their men’s under-20 team fought doggedly to the final whistle, exerting every last ounce of energy.
In the third and final match of the qualifying round, and having lost to both the USA and Ukraine in previous games, the Burmese squad knew they needed a healthy win to stand any chance of being one of four third-placed teams to qualify from the group stage. The New Zealanders, likewise, were in a do-or-die situation, where only a victory would let them through.
As in prior matches, the Burmese led the charge early on, scurrying to close down their opponents, linking up well and pressing forward at every opportunity. It all suddenly looked possible when Aung Thu struck after 28 minutes. 1-0 to Burma; cue dancing and mathematical calculations in teashops around the country.
Alas, the advantage did not last, with Billingsley scoring for the Kiwis in the 40th minute to even it up at the break.
Whatever the Burmese team does at half-time in the dressing room clearly does not work. In the second period they invariably tire quickly and fall apart. Against Ukraine they imploded over a 25-minute spell, and it was a case of same-same today as the team capitulated in the second half.
First, Patterson scored in a move directly worked from the kick off, giving New Zealand a goal advantage. Burma lacked possession and imagination, and never troubled the Kiwi goalkeeper. Nevertheless they tried to push forward, leaving gaping spaces in defence. Stevens took advantage in the 79th minute, making it 3-1, before Brotherton met a free kick majestically in the air to head home a fourth. Goalie Myo Min Latt will not want to see a recording of the fifth – as the ball was squared from the left wing, he attempted to thump it to safety, swung wildly with his right boot into thin air, and left Lewis with the easiest tap in to make it 5-1.
New Zealand will now have to watch the remaining games to see if they qualify, but chances are high after this resounding victory.
As for Burma, the boys go home with their heads held high – a valiant effort against professional Western players who are clearly on a higher pay grade.
Teashops in Burma will now turn the channel to the SEA Games from Singapore, where Burma has made an amazing start, beating Indonesia and Singapore in their opening games.