As the Indians gear up for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, we take a closer look at their rivals. Here we focus on Myanmar...
India will no doubt be looking to put their recent international friendly defeat to Palestine behind them when they participate in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup qualifiers due to begin from March 2 in Yangon, Myanmar.
The Indians will be facing Myanmar on March 6, 2013 in what will be their final qualifying match. Goal.com attempts to highlight what 'The White Angels' bring to the table.
Ranking: Myanmar are ranked 164 in the FIFA World Rankings, three places ahead of India. They broke into the top 100 in 1996 when they were ranked 97 in the world. What will be heartening for the team is that they have jumped 20 places ahead since October 2012. The White Angels are placed in the 29th slot in the AFC Rankings, two spots ahead of India.
Coach: In Park Sung Hwa, Myanmar have a coach who knows how it feels to win tournaments. The 57-year old South Korean national led his country's Under-20 side to the 2003 and 2005 FIFA World Youth Championships. This was after he had won the AFC Youth Championships with the same team in 2002 and 2004.
Hwa is not a stranger to winning at club level too as he led Pohang Steelers to successive AFC Champions League titles in 1997 and 1998 in addition to their Korean FA Cup triumph. He was involved with the South Korean senior team between 2003 and 2004 after which he had brief stints with Busan l'Park, South Korea Under-23 and Dalian Shide. Park has been involved with the Myanmar team since 2011.
Myanmar's coach is one with a winning mentality
Initial Roots: The team was referred to as the Burma national team till 1989. They were one of the dominant sides in south-east Asia during the 1960's and 70's when they won the Asian Games twice and the football tournament of the south-east Asian Games on five occasions. They finished runners-up to Iran in the 1968 Asian Cup which earned them the right to take part in the 1972 Munich Olympics where they won the award for Fair Play despite losing all their matches. The White Angels played their first World Cup qualifiers in 2007 when they failed to score and conceded 11 goals over two legs against China.
Problems arising due to regional conflicts: The country has been rife with political unrest since obtaining independence in 1948. Military coup d'etat's led to Burma (now Myanmar) being labelled amongst the world's most impoverished countries. The team successfully defended their Asian Games title in 1970 but were unable to do so in 1974 due to the strife in their homeland. The nation continues to battle such uprisings till date.
Clubs representing the nation: A vast majority of the Myanmar squad ply their trade for Yangon United, the club of the country's capital Yangon. They were one of the founding members of the Myanmar National League (MNL) along with Yadnarbon FC, which came into existence in 2009 and are the reigning champions since 2011. As a result, the team will participate in the 2013 AFC Cup.
Yadnarbon FC are another club that has significant representatives in the national team. They won the first two editions of the MNL Cup and were also the AFC President's Cup champions in 2010.
Stars rising for Myanmar's cause: The country received widespread support from Italy star Roberto Baggio who made concerted efforts to obtain the release of Myanmar's detained democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010. The former Juventus man was awarded the Peace Summit Award in 2010 for his endeavours.
World Cup record: The Myanmar national side withdrew during the qualifying rounds of the 1950 and 1994 FIFA World Cups and refrained from participating in the 1930 World Cup, even though there were no qualifying rounds involved, which continued till 1938 . They performed an encore of the incident when Myanmar refused to take part in the World Cups from 1954 to 1990. The White Angels withdrew from qualification for the 2002 World Cup in Korea, Japan and subsequently were barred from playing the qualifiers for the 2006 edition in Germany. Since then the team has not been able to qualify for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups as well.
Asian encounters: The Myanmar team's best ever performance in an Asian Cup came during their Golden Era of the 60's and 70's when they finished runners-up to Iran in the 1968 edition. Apart from this aberration, the White Angels have either not qualified or withdrawn from the competition.
The side finished fourth in the 2008 and 2010 editions of the AFC Challenge Cup but could not qualify for the 2012 tournament in Nepal.
Key players: The team has always borne a youthful look to it and it is no different this time. The side relies on the craft of their 20-year old attacking midfielder Kyi Lin who plies his trade for Yangon United. Blessed with pace, power and a good shot this youngster is on his way to stardom in his homeland.
The coach Park Sung-Hwa left prodigy Kyaw Ko Ko out of his squad for the qualifiers on disciplinary grounds.
They will look to make amends for their shortcomings during the Challenge Cup qualifiers and secure their passage to the Cup finals in 2014.
Recent form: The White Angels haven't had a form card that makes good reading. They finished bottom of their group in the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2012 without a single win to their name. The team assembled for a preparatory camp for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers on February 2, 2013. This was followed by a 0-1 defeat to Philippines despite dominating a sizeable portion of the match and a scoreless draw against Malaysia Under-23.
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