RANGOON — Crowds of Burmese dressed in their team’s red shirts poured into the former capital’s Thuwanna Stadium on Saturday to watch the men’s football team’s opening game in this year’s Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), the first to be held in Burma.
Young men and women, many with Burmese flags on their cheeks, cheered as their team beat Cambodia 3-0 to make a winning start to the group stage of the football competition.
At one end of the stadium, a group of highly coordinated supporters waved Burma flags and football scarves, or beat together inflatable batons, all in perfect synchronization. As the match kicked off at about 6:45, loud chants of “Myanmar, Hey! Myanmar, Hey!” started among the hardcore fans and spread around the stadium.
No support was visible in the stadium for Cambodia, which produced few chances in the first half. The home side made it look easy, drawing huge cheers as the team came close to scoring in the seventh minute. In just the 18th minute, Burma broke the deadlock with Zaw Min Tun’s neat headed goal from a corner.
Shortly after the first goal, Burma’s Kyaw Ko Ko scored with another header after a well-played cross was delivered from the right.
After half time, Cambodia played a little better and created chances. But the Burmese team responded and Kyaw Ko Ko finished off a neat passing move at the far post to score his second goal of the game after 60 minutes. Jubilant celebrations by the players got the crowd going, and the confident-looking Burma team never looked like letting their lead slip.
Earlier Saturday, Thailand beat East Timor by 3-1. On Sunday, Vietnam thrashed Brunei 7-0 and Singapore drew 1-1 with Laos.
The Burma men’s team’s next game in SEA Games is against East Timor on Monday night, also at the Thuwanna Stadium.
Security was tight at the stadium Saturday night, with a spate of bombings around the country in October raising fears about safety at the SEA Games. Burma is hosting the games for the first time, and it is seen as a key test of the country’s ability to organize major events ahead of its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) chairmanship next year.
The football match passed without problems, but the crowd was patted down and their bags put through airport scanners on entry to the stadium. The Burmese fans have a reputation for reacting badly when their team concedes goals, so alcohol and even plastic water bottles, which could be thrown onto the pitch, were confiscated.
Tickets were sold for 2,000 kyat, or about $2, and sold out well before the game. However, the stadium was not completely full and black-market tickets were on sale outside the gates for about 4,000 kyat.
Although a number of SEA Games events have already taken place, an official opening ceremony will be held on Wednesday. Events are taking place predominantly in the capital, Naypyidaw, but also in Rangoon and Mandalay, and Ngwe Saung Beach, where the sailing will take place.