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Pain and pride as Burma fall at final hurdle

Burmese fans in Mon State. (PHOTO: DVB)

At the final whistle, the 11 Burmese players on the park at Singapore’s National Stadium dropped to their knees, exhausted and inconsolable. But they will wake up this morning knowing that they did their country proud, making it to the final of the SEA Games football tournament, beating Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam on the way, and only going down to a Thai team that was vastly superior in every department.

Thousands upon thousands of football fans stayed glued to TV sets and screens across the country on Monday night, nerves on edge, as Burma fought valiantly to hold out the defending champions.

In the end, Thailand deservedly won 3-0, though Burma had managed to hold out a goalless first half, thanks mainly to the heroics of goalkeeper Phyo Kyaw Zin, who thwarted a barrage of Thai attacks.

The final began at a frantic pace, with both sides fighting for every loose ball. Thailand was confident in possession, while the Burmese youngsters closed down space and harried them at each opportunity. The Thais shot repeatedly from outside the box but could not penetrate Phyo Kyaw Zin’s goal. The Burmese tried to break and counter-attack, but the Thai defence stood firm.

In the second half, Thailand immediately showed a new tactic; instead of trying pot shots from 20 yards, they looked to link quickly and play the ball behind the Burmese defenders.

But it was from a corner that the first goal came, after 54 minutes, and it had a hint of offside about it. Burma stabbed at the in-swinging corner kick twice but failed to clear and the ball dropped at the feet of Tanaboon Kesarat. He quickly adjusted and slotted the ball past the keeper, though a Thai attacker was standing beside Phyo Kyaw Zin at the time and could easily have been judged to be interfering with the goalie’s line of vision. Nonetheless, the goal stood.

Thailand swelled with confidence and took control after that goal, never looking back. It seemed only a matter of time before they added to the scoreline.

In the 65th minute, Chanthip crossed for Chananan to slot home, making it 2-0. Substitute Pinyo Inpinit put the tie out of doubt by evading the Burmese defence and nudging the ball into the net for a third in the 78th minute.

Burma played with pride to the end, huffing and puffing and prodding, but the classy Thai team could not be broken. Ultimately, Burma had to settle for the silver medal, an achievement most fans would have gratefully accepted at the outset of the competition.

Last night, President Thein Sein sent his congratulations to the squad, noting that, “on behalf of more than 50 million Myanmar people”, he appreciated the efforts of the team, which has “already won the hearts of the people”.