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Fever pitch: all eyes on Sea Games football final

Traffic will come to a standstill; the streets will turn bare; an enormous hush shall fall across the nation for a few minutes as Burma holds its collective breath.

It’s the final of the SEA Games football tournament tonight in Singapore, where the Burmese under-23 team meets defending champions Thailand for the gold medal. The Thais have won this competition nine times out of the past 11 championships. Burma, on the other hand, has not won the biannual SEA Games gold since 1973, and goes into this match as the undisputed underdog.

Nonetheless, an air of optimism is surrounding the fixture, following the Burmese squad’s somewhat fortunate victory against Vietnam in the semi-final on Saturday afternoon.

“Myanmar [Burma] must win!” decrees lifelong fan Kyaw Moe, who said he will be occupying a seat in a Rangoon teashop at least an hour before kickoff to ensure a front-row view of the TV.

The big match begins at 7pm Burmese time. Large screens are being set up to cater for thousands of supporters at several parks and junctions around Rangoon, including at Maha Bandula Park, People’s Park and Kandawgyi Lake. Local authorities in Mandalay have also reportedly promised to set up screens.

DVB’s former sports reporter Zin Maung was circumspect about Burma’s odds of winning. “The Thais have the upper hand,” he said on Monday. “They have individual skill, teamwork and experience.”

In the semi-final, Thailand trounced Indonesia 5-0 while Burma struggled to overcome Vietnam, ultimately prevailing by two goals to one – and not without controversy.

In the 36th minute, Burma won a free-kick just outside the penalty area. Captain Nay Lin Htun tried to curl the ball around the Vietnamese wall but it hit the elbow of defender Ngoc Thang Ho. The referee blew for a penalty, much to the chagrin of Ngoc who could barely contain his fury.

Si Thu Aung slotted the penalty home and Burma was in front.

Losing the goal brought the Vietnamese team alive, and they laid siege to Burma in the second half. Chance after chance went begging until the 71st minute. Vietnam finally grabbed a deserved goal when Huy Toan Vo nudged the ball home after the Burmese keeper could only parry a shot.

The momentum seemed to be heading Vietnam’s way, but against the run of play, Nay Linn Tun tried his luck from the edge of the box. The ball deflected off a Vietnamese defender and eluded the goalie, landing plum in the top-left hand corner of the net.

The Vietnamese launched everything they had in the final minutes but Burma somehow managed to hang on for the win.

Burmese fans will be hoping that the White Angels team can ride their luck again tonight, and bring home a long-awaited gold medal.