White Angels stumble ahead of Suzuki Cup
IT was supposed to be a warm-up. It was supposed to be a confidence booster. Instead, Myanmar’s home match with Oman ended in a 3-0 defeat on November 14 at Thuwunna Stadium, raising questions about the White Angels’ chances in the upcoming Suzuki Cup starting November 20.
After the loss, coach Gerd Friedrich Zeise said he’s uncertain of the team’s chances to make it out of the group stages.
“In the Suzuki Cup, we’ll give the best form we can with our current talent,” he said. “But I can’t promise we’ll climb up to the semi-final. Whatever – we’ll prepare as best we can.”
Coming off a six-week stretch of games against European club teams abroad, the team returned to a small welcome, with just a few hundred spectators rooting on the home team.
That might have been some small relief for the Oman squad, whose last visit to Myanmar in 2011 – for a FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifier – ended early in a torrent of stadium chairs, shoes, bottles and stones after a referee awarded a controversial penalty.
That fiasco cost Myanmar eligibility to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and continues to affect the country: None of Myanmar’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers may be played in-country, with home matches relegated to Thailand.
But on November 14, the small fanbase remained calm as the White Angels took the field. Zeise went with the same line-up he’d used in the November 4 0-0 friendly draw against Indonesia save for two exceptions: midfielder Myo Ko Tun stepped in for the less experienced Yan Naing Oo, while Suan Lam Mang started over the team’s newest striker Kaung Sat Naing.
The changes showed early results, with crisp passes from the Myanmar side leading to great chances. They looked to take an early lead in the 8th minute, when Myo Ko Tun headed home only to be denied by the crossbar.
Just two minutes later, Oman striker Ali Al Nahar escaped containment on a sparkling through-ball, slipping it past keeper Kyaw Zin Phyo to put the visitors up by one.
Myanmar responded with furious charges upfield but could not solve the Oman defence. Just before the half, Zeise subbed Kaung Sat Naing in for Suan Lam Mang, giving the 23-yearold striker a chance to shine.
Kaung Sat Naing replaced Kyaw Ko Ko – arguably the nation’s biggest star – in a shocking managerial decision during the team’s European tour just over a month ago. In his second-ever game representing the national team on Myanmar soil, he came through with a lastminute flurry before the half ran out. Oman keeper Faiyz Al Busheidi stood the test, however, making a series of brilliant saves on the doorstep.
In the second half, Myanmar struggled to sustain pressure. Oman striker Qasim Ardan buried one past Kyaw Zin Phyo’s left side in the 55th minute, lifting his side to a two-goal lead and relegating Myanmar to desperation. They paid for pressing too far forward in the 69th minute when Mohsin Al Khldi finished a counter-attack in the back of the net.
Despite the loss, Zeise pointed to the team’s consistent ability to create chances as progress. It was a message that Oman head coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro echoed in his post-game comments.
“I heard that Myanmar had made good preparations ahead of the Suzuki Cup,” he said. “So I’m happy to beat what appears to be a stronger team. We really played well in the first half.”
Though he added that he felt his defence gave too many chances to Myanmar’s strikers, he pointed out that giving up chances is better than goals.
“Scores are the life of the game,” he said. “Myanmar strikers could create the goals.”
Zeise said Myanmar’s struggle was less its ability to close and more its ability to protect the net.
“Our defence was weak, and in the second half our form deteriorated,” he said. “We lost position. But before the next match, I’ll fix those weaknesses.”
On November 20, Myanmar will face Vietnam in the Suzuki Cup’s group (B) opening match followed by games against Cambodia on November 23 and Malaysia on November 26.
Oman’s Raed Saleh (left) chases after a loose ball with Myanmar’s Mg Mg Lwin (right) in close pursuit during the teams’ friendly at Thuwunna Stadium on November 14.