Myanmar desperate to make up for 2013 flop at AFF Cup

Myanmar's star striker Kyaw Ko Ko during training at Jalan Besar Stadium last night. He still has awful memories from his team's shock group-stage exit at the 2013 SEA Games on home ground and knows only a golden performance at this year's AFF Suzuki
Myanmar's star striker Kyaw Ko Ko during training at Jalan Besar Stadium last night. He still has awful memories from his team's shock group-stage exit at the 2013 SEA Games on home ground and knows only a golden performance at this year's AFF Suzuki Cup will satisfy their hordes of success-starved fans.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Playing in a major tournament on home soil, with the unified roar of the local support egging the team on, is usually a moment worth savouring.

But for Myanmar's star striker Kyaw Ko Ko, his is a memory haunted by ripped seats, flying stones and police firing water cannon, as his countrymen turned riotous in the aftermath of a crushing defeat.

This happened more than two years ago at the 2013 SEA Games, which Myanmar hosted. There had been talk of a possible football gold, but the hosts crashed out in the group stage. They were level on points with second-placed Indonesia but failed to advance because of a poorer head-to-head record.

On the violent scenes that followed their final group match in Yangon, the decisive 1-0 defeat by Indonesia, Kyaw said: "I couldn't sleep for a few nights after. I felt bad and I understand how the fans felt... I'm still trying to forget the things that happened that night."

But the White Angels have a chance to appease their football-crazy supporters this year - when they co-host the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in November.

  • Ticket details

  • Tickets, which start from $4 (concession), can be bought at www.globaltickets.sg or at AXS machines until 4pm today.

    Local fans can also buy tickets at the Jalan Besar Stadium (North Gate) from 4.30pm, subject to availability.

    Tickets for away fans are sold out.

For them, the road to redemption gathers pace today with a test against four-time AFF championship winners Singapore.

Their coach Gerd Zeise said: "For me, it's a good test. We can see where we stand. Singapore are favourites, they play fantastic football and we will see if we can compete or not.

"We want to do well, forget (2013) and move forward."

On his target for the Suzuki Cup, whose other co-hosts are the Philippines, the German coach told The Straits Times: "The target is the same. Myanmar wants to win every time. If you host, you must satisfy the spectators, and they are football-crazy. I mean it positively.

"Our preparations are going in the direction to perform very well."

Indeed, while Myanmar have never tasted glory at the biennial championship, they are certainly sparing no expenses in their preparations for this year's event.

In the pipeline are two training trips - one to Germany in September, and another to South Korea a month later, which Zeise said would cost around US$200,000 (S$273,000) in total. They will use Germany as a base then, and play matches there as well as in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The team will also gather for centralised training from Aug 20, which will give Zeise almost three months to work with his players on a near-daily basis.

He said: "It is a very big event and this gives me hope that we can come close to the target of winning."

In the 63-year-old German, Myanmar also have a man familiar with the country's footballers, having been involved in the national set-up since 2010.

The coach is regarded as a hero after guiding the country's Under-19s to last year's Fifa U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.

While they were eliminated at the group stage after losing all three matches, Zeise said he would still rely heavily on players from that team, such as striker Aung Thu, the reigning AFF Youth Player of the Year.

"We know each other for a long time, they know how I work, so of course I count on them," said Zeise.

He also earmarked captain Yan Aung Kyaw, playmaker Kyi Lin and Kyaw as players who will form the backbone of the Suzuki Cup squad.

Kyaw said: "It's not just me, the whole team want to win the Suzuki Cup for the fans and forget that night in 2013.

"It starts today. The target is to beat Singapore."

Chua Siang Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Myanmar desperate to make up for 2013 flop at AFF Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe