RANGOON — Burma’s women footballers have a greater chance at winning a Southeast Asia Games gold medal than their male counterparts, experts believe.
Both teams have started strongly in their respective competitions, as the football-mad nation hosts a regional sporting event for the first time in 44 years.
The men look set to qualify for the semi-final stage after beating Cambodia and East Timor, and securing a hard-fought draw against Thailand on Saturday. Their performances have drawn large crowds to Rangoon’s Thuwanna Stadium and game with bitter rivals Thailand was a sellout.
The women’s team, which is playing its games at Mandalay’s Mandalar Thiri Stadium, began with a convincing 2-0 win against the Philippines last week, but lost 1-0 to Vietnam on Sunday. Despite the loss against the highly rated Vietnam team, the Burma women have qualified for the semi-finals, and Burmese sporting experts still rate the women’s chances.
“The women’s national football team has more potential to win the gold medal than the men’s national football team,” Khin Maung Htwe, a long-time sports columnist, told The Irrawaddy.
He pointed to the women’s team’s qualification for the 2014 Asia Women, and hopes that the team will have success in upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
The International Federation of Association Football’s (FIFA) world rankings put the Burma women’s team 42nd, while the men’s team is languishing at 140th place. (The men’s SEA Games competition is limited to under 23-year-old players, but the women’s competition has no age limit)
“Thailand and Vietnam women’s football teams are the main competitors for the Myanmar women’s national football team,” said Khin Maung Htwe.
Speaking before Sunday’s defeat, the national women’s team spokeswomen, Myat Myat Oo, said the players are focused on getting the gold medal.
“We will try our best to get the gold medal in the SEA Games,” she said. “But we will not take any teams too lightly, and we will play every game like it’s the final.”
For the Burma men’s team, columnist Khin Maung Htwe reckons they will progress to the latter stages of the competition. Burma only needs to avoid a heavy defeat to Indonesia on Monday night to progress.
“The men’s football team is improving compared with the past. But there have been many good chances for goals that they missed because they play selfishly. We need to watch whether they will change that or not,” he said.
Soe Moe, spokesman for the Myanmar Football Federation, was confident the men can go all the way.
“I believe the Myanmar men’s national football team will win the gold medal since they have had training in South Korean and Japan, and they played qualifier matches with others local teams,” he said.
The director of Burma’s Ministry of Sports, Kyaw San Oo, told The Irrawaddy before the SEA Games that he believed the country would win about 100 gold medals across all events.
Burma led the medal table throughout last week, but was knocked off the top spot Saturday by Thailand. On Monday, the team had 39 gold medals, and was third in the medal table behind Thailand and Vietnam.
“To win 100 gold medals in SEA Games is really too high. It is not possible, I think,” said Khin Maung Htwe, putting the failure down to the lack of development in Burmese sport over the years.
“We need more time,” he said.