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Burma’s football dream goes up in smoke

Aftermath of Defeat: Firefighters attempt to put out a fire while protecting themselves from hooligans throwing rocks. (PHOTO: DVB)

The Burmese men’s football team crashed out of the SEA Games in disastrous fashion to Indonesia on a night that will be remembered more for the disgraceful scenes after the match, when disgruntled fans set fires and confronted riot police in the streets of eastern Rangoon.

It had all started out with such high expectations – after two wins and a draw with Thailand, all Burma required was a draw against Indonesia to qualify on Monday night. To make things easier for the Burmese, Thailand had just faltered in the game before, tying 0-0 with Cambodia, allowing the host nation a golden opportunity to top the group.

BEFORE: Burmese fans in a festive mood ahead of the match.

Inevitably, Burmese coach Park Sung-Wha’s tactics will be subject to scrutiny as the post-mortem of this match is sure to be investigated on several fronts, not least of all a Vietnamese referee who incensed the home crowd with his decisions.

In front of a festive 30,000 crowd at the Thuwunna Stadium, Burma immediately began the game nervously. The decision to rest Kyaw Ko Ko, who has been the team’s most deadly attacker, perhaps resonated a sense that the Burmese were as good as through the group stage and could save energy for the semi-final on Thursday.

According to the SEA Games sports writer: “Throughout the first 45 minutes, Myanmar [Burma] seemed stagnant and withdrawn from the flow of play, apparently looking to see out a 0-0 game and play on the counter. At the break, Indonesia owned 63 percent of possession, while the hosts managed but a single shot on goal.”

Indonesia scored a penalty in the 35th minute and Burma never looked like reclaiming the game. Unable to penetrate the Indonesian defence in the second half, Burma was reduced to shooting from outside the box, but to little effect.

Clearly frustrated, Burma’s Ye Lin Aung was sent off in the 88th minute for a callous elbow to the head of an Indonesian player as the ball rolled harmlessly out of play.

As the clock ticked down, the home fans became agitated and then incensed. At least two managed to breach the grandstand defenses and invade the pitch. Seats were torn up by Burma’s supporters and thrown over the barricade; some rocks were thrown onto the park too.

With no less than six minutes of extra time to steal an equaliser, Burma threw everything at the Indonesian defence, but it came to nothing. At the final whistle, the Indonesians knelt to the ground in relief while Burma’s players crumpled to the ground in despair.

Immediately after the game a fire was reported to have been started near the East Gate of the stadium with distraught and drunken fans burning their Burma shirts. Firefighters were called to the scene, and some 2,000 riot police stood by anxiously.

SEA games-related billboards were set on fire and destroyed. Fans pelted stones at the riot police who protected themselves from a distance with shields.

As the crowd filtered out of the stadium more stone-throwing took place nearby at the intersection of Waizayantar Road and Laydauntkan Road in Thingyangun township. At 9:45pm, riot police began moving in and making arrests.

Injuries to both police and fans were reported before calm was restored. Telephone access was also cut to the area, and to compound a night of misery, the SEA Games website itself was hacked by disgruntled fans who demanded a review of the refereeing decisions that led to Burma’s defeat.