Can Myan­mar ride home­field ad­van­tage to vic­tory?

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

ARE you ready for some in­ter-re­gional foot­ball? Myan­mar will host Group B sides Malaysia, Viet­nam, and Cam­bo­dia as the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup kicks off at Thuwunna Sta­dium in Yangon from Novem­ber 20 to 26.

Myan­mar has never been able to claim ASEAN’s top foot­ball cham­pi­onship ti­tle – it placed fourth in 2004 – but this year, with a re-tooled and fo­cused squad play­ing on home turf in the Golden Land, can Myan­mar catch a break?

Euro-trip prepa­ra­tion The Myan­mar na­tional side won’t just be re­ly­ing on home-field ad­van­tage. They pre­pared for the tour­na­ment by play­ing warm-up matches against sec­ond-tier Euro­pean clubs and youth teams in Ger­many, the Nether­lands, Bel­gium and Cyprus.

The White An­gles played eight friendlies over the six-week tour, notch­ing four wins, two draws, and two losses. Head coach Gerd Zeise was said the trip was con­ceived both to give the team a chance to con­nect and build chem­istry and to im­prove give the play­ers’ con­fi­dence.

“Euro­pean teams are bet­ter than Asian teams and stronger as well, so we ben­e­fited from start­ing against tougher com­pe­ti­tion in Europe,” the Ger­man coach said. Loss of a star The White An­gels will be tak­ing on Group B with two glar­ing ab­sences, af­ter the sur­prise sack­ing of vet­eran mid­fielder Thiha Zaw and star striker Kyaw Ko Ko in the midst of their Euro­pean fix­tures.

Yangon United’s premier goal­maker, Kyaw Ko Ko is widely con­sid­ered Myan­mar’s best strik­ing ta­lent. The speed-de­mon, who rose to na­tional fame af­ter scor­ing five goals at the 2011 South­east Asian Games, has 38 caps for the na­tional team, in which he’s scored eight goals.

The 23-year-old’s shock dis­missal drove ador­ing fans to Face­book to de­mand the striker’s re­in­state­ment to the squad be­fore the Suzuki Cup, but Zeise rea­soned that the striker was a poor fit for the play­ing style he wanted to de­velop with the na­tional team, which would fo­cus on strong team­work rather than in­di­vid­ual tal­ents.

In Kyaw Ko Ko’s place at the top of the for­ma­tion, Zeise has tapped Yada­nar­bon for­ward Win Naing Soe and 23-year-old Kaung Sett Naing. A former Yangon United striker now play­ing for Thai­land’s sec­ond-tier Sa­mut Sakhon, the fleet­footed Kaung Sett Naing has worn Myan­mar’s U-19, U-21 and U-23 kits, and was on the 28th SEA Games U-23 squad that took the sil­ver medal in Sin­ga­pore in 2015.

Shan United cap­tain Win Min Htut also re­ceived a call-up. At 36, the 30-capped Win Min Htut will be among the old­est play­ers on the team.

“Win Min Htut is an amaz­ing player,” Shan United head coach Soe Myat Min said pre­vi­ously. “There’s not many like him – he par­tic­i­pated in all of our team matches last sea­son. Didn’t miss a sin­gle game. His ex­pe­ri­ence will be a big sup­port for the na­tional team.”

The na­tional squad will also be able to call on Yada­nar­bon vet­eran Than Paing, Suan Lam Mang and Aung Thu to lend fresh legs to the at­tack.

Early dis­ap­point­ment Myan­mar fans may have been hop­ing the White An­gels would come roar­ing back from the suc­cesses of their Euro­pean tour, but un­for­tu­nately it wasn’t the case, as a Novem­ber 4 friendly against In­done­sia at Thuwunna Sta­dium ended in a goal­less draw.

More dispir­it­ing than the per­for­mance was the team’s per­for­mance, as the mid­field­ers seemed to lack co­or­di­na­tion and seemed con­fused on the field. While new ad­di­tion Kaung Sett Naing was able to run cir­cles around the In­done­sian de­fend­ers, the White An­gels squan­dered mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to score.

They’ll need to fin­ish more de­ci­sively if they’re go­ing to beat Group B favourites Viet­nam, who took home the Suzuki Cup ti­tle in 2008. Malaysia, the 2010 Cup win­ners, are Myan­mar’s main ri­vals for the run­ner-up po­si­tion and qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the knock­out round, but tour­na­ment un­der­dogs Cam­bo­dia also put up 8 goals on their way to a per­fect three wins in the qual­i­fy­ing rounds.

Oman friendly looms But be­fore the Cup gets un­der­way, the White An­gels face Oman in a fi­nal friendly on Novem­ber 14 at YTC. Oman, who notched two draws against Irish clubs in Au­gust be­fore suf­fer­ing a 4-0 drub­bing by the Repub­lic’s na­tional side will be com­ing off a friendly against Ja­pan on Novem­ber 11.

Gerd Zeise ad­mit­ted af­ter the In­done­sia match that Myan­mar’s per­for­mance wasn’t strong enough to pass through the Suzuki Cup group stage, and he hoped that one more in­ter­na­tional friendly would pro­vide the ex­pe­ri­ence this group needs to gel.

“I’m not sat­is­fied with our cur­rent level of per­for­mance. Our play­ers are too slow, and they don’t play well enough to­gether. They demon­strated much bet­ter form in the Euro­pean friendlies, so I don’t un­der­stand why this is hap­pen­ing. I’m par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­pointed by striker Aung Thu and mid­fielder Ye Ko Oo’s show­ings,” the coach said.

With not a lot of time left to get his team in form be­fore the Suzuki Cup group matches, Zeise has his work cut out for him against Oman. It’s a big gamble with a young, untested squad, but it could pay off in the form of a first re­gional Cup ti­tle.

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