RANGOON — In a close-fought contest played Saturday night in Rangoon, the eagerly-anticipated Southeast Asia Games duel between neighbors Burma and Thailand finished level after both sides spurned gilt-edged chances.
The outcome leaves both sides with seven points—joint-top of their pool going into the final round of group-stage games Monday.
After a tentative start with few openings created, Thailand striker Adisak Kraisorn missed an open goal in the 27th minute, failing to react sharply enough to turn his close-range header into a gaping net, with the home crowd sighing in relief.
Six minutes later Burma took the lead with a header of its own, with Nay Tin Lun nodding past the Thai keeper Kawin Thamsatchanan. Nay Tin Lun had earlier replaced Burmese star player Kyi Lun, who was carrying a knock going into the game.
However Burma seemed to switch off defensively at the start of the second half, conceding an equalizer and what turned out to be the game’s final score after just a minute of play in the second half. Thailand defender Praweenwat Boonyon turned in from close range after Burma’s defense made a mess of dealing with a free kick whipped into the box. The 46th minute jolt sent the stadium quiet, save for the cheers of the thousand or so Thais boxed into the middle of the thirty thousand sellout.
Both sides had half-chances before the end, with Burma having a goal disallowed for offside three minutes before time, prompting a volley of expletives from the raucous hometown crowd.
The result that will likely better suit the Thai team, who spent the final few minutes of the game killing time—tactics which drew the ire of the Burmese in the stadium and prompted two yellow cards in quick succession from the referee.
Face painted in the green, red and yellow of the Burmese national flag, business student Min Lwin watched the game from a vantage point near one of the corner flags. “I am not so happy with the result, I thought we could have won,” he told The Irrawaddy, speaking as the final whistle went.
Min Lwin said that he arrived at the stadium at 8 am on Saturday morning, waiting two hours in line to buy a ticket for the 630 pm kick off. “Some of my friends could not get tickets, so that is disappointing too,” he added.
Outside the Thuwanna Stadium in north-eastern Rangoon, thousands of Burmese supporters watched on a big screen, many disappointed at not being able to get one of the 30,000 tickets, which were selling on the black market at ten times face value close to kick-off time.
An official announcement said east Rangoon’s Thuwanna Stadium was full to capacity with a crowd of 30,000 people.
Taw Win Phyo was one of seven friends standing in the dark on the main road outside the ground, a few minutes before kick off. “None of us have tickets, we have been here all day looking, but they are gone and the black market is too expensive,” he said.
Inside, hundreds were without seats, and most wore the white shirts of the home side. The rivalry between the two nations was evident in angry shouts from the home crowd when Thailand were on the ball, vitriol that was amped-up during a few second-half pushing matches between the players, mostly reacting to perceived fouls or diving by the opposition. Adding some triumphalist historical edge to proceedings, some Burmese painted their faces to look like King Alaungpaya, the 18th century Burmese monarch who fought a war with Thailand.
Saturday night’s 1-1 draw means that both Thailand and Burma will likely qualify for the semi-finals from Group B, after Indonesia’s surprising failure to beat East Timor. Burma will face Indonesia in a crunch match on Monday, with the Burmese favored to do enough at home to make the semi-finals, given Indonesia’s 4-1 loss to Thailand earlier in the competition.
Burma and Thailand are level on seven points, with the Thais ahead on goal difference. The semi-finalists from Group A will be Singapore and either Vietnam or Malaysia.
The result came at the end of a day which saw Burma slip to third in the overall SEA Games medal table, behind Thailand and Vietnam, and ahead of Indonesia, though at time of writing Burma had moved back to second place behind Thailand.
BY SIMON ROUGHNEEN AND LAWI WENG