Na­tion’s best face off for SEA Games squad se­lec­tion

The Myanmar Times - - Sport - KYAW ZIN HLAING kyawz­inhlaing@mm­times.com

MYAN­MAR’S an­nual na­tional hockey tour­na­ment wrapped up yes­ter­day with a fi­nal pit­ting Yangon Re­gion against Chin State, but the Hockey Fed­er­a­tion is keep­ing a keen eye on the com­peti­tors ahead of the 2017 South­east Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

One hun­dred and eighty lo­cal ath­letes rep­re­sent­ing teams from 10 states and re­gions took part in the two-week tour­na­ment, which was held from Oc­to­ber 3 to 17 at Thein Phyu hockey sta­dium.

Yangon’s finest, per­haps able to cap­i­talise on a home­town fa­mil­iar­ity, thrashed their Chin com­pa­tri­ots 5-1, tak­ing home the tro­phy.

But the play­ers weren’t only putting it all on the line in the spirit of com­pe­ti­tion: The Myan­mar Hockey Fed­er­a­tion also used the tour­na­ment as a scout­ing op­por­tu­nity for Myan­mar’s next SEA Games squad.

“We’re cur­rently pre­par­ing for the 29th South­east Asia Games. So while we were look­ing for­ward to hold­ing the tour­na­ment, we’re also look­ing to se­lect around 40 play­ers to make up the new na­tional team,” said Saw Lu Lu Htaw, pres­i­dent of the Myan­mar Hockey Fed­er­a­tion.

At the 2015 SEA Games in Sin­ga­pore, Myan­mar’s men’s hockey team took home the bronze medal with a dom­i­nat­ing 5-1 per­for­mance over Thai­land in the con­so­la­tion round af­ter los­ing to even­tual gold-medal win­ners Malaysia 2-0. The out­look for 2017 isn’t nearly as bright, how­ever, and not only be­cause the Games will be hosted by Malaysia, the re­gion’s top-seeded team.

“In Kuala Lumpur, we prob­a­bly won’t be able to earn a medal, be­cause 75 per­cent of our Sin­ga­pore squad re­tired af­ter the 2015 games. We were lucky to be able to field a very se­nior squad in Sin­ga­pore, which had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing to­gether, but now we’re fac­ing build­ing a com­pletely new squad and train­ing them for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion at the same time. But we’ll try our best,” Saw Lu Lu Htaw said.

While they may not be tar­get­ing a medal fin­ish just yet, Myan­mar’s hockey squad has al­ready signed a Malaysian head coach, and will travel to train with the hosts ahead of the games next Au­gust. Malaysia won gold in both the men’s and women’s field hockey at the 2015 SEA Games.

“Next month, we’ll be bring­ing in a Malaysian head coach to lead the na­tional team, as well as an Aus­tralian fit­ness coach. We’re in a re­build­ing phase this year, but we have our eyes set on the 2019 South­east Asia Games, in the Philip­pines,” Saw Lu Lu Htaw said.

Yangon team striker Nay Shine, 26, re­ceived the best player award from this month’s tour­na­ment, but he isn’t sat­is­fied with just the na­tional hard­ware.

“It’s my dream to be a na­tional team player. If I get a shot, I’ll try my best to rep­re­sent Myan­mar, de­spite the chal­lenges we’ll be fac­ing in Malaysia,” he told The Myan­mar Times.

“In Kuala Lumpur, the field is al­ready very tough: not only the hosts, but Thai­land and Sin­ga­pore also have very strong squads. But I want to be a SEA Games medal­list more than any­thing else. So I’ll be work­ing my hardest to make the na­tional team,” he added.

Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

A Chin player (blue) pre­pares a cross-field pass in Myan­mar’s hockey tour­na­ment fi­nal, where the home­town Yangon team pre­vailed, 5-1.

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