Suzuki Cup: Raddy the key for Myanmar

Malaysians would probably have cheered when Radojko Avramovic parted ways with Singapore after the Lions lifted the 2012 Suzuki Cup.

After all, the 64-year-old coach had turned the Lions into a formidable side and they were especially hard to beat in Causeway derbies.

Avramovic masterminded a superb 3-0 win over Malaysia at the National Stadium at Bukit Jalil in their first match of the 2012 Suzuki Cup, and the Lions have lost just twice to their arch-rivals in 13 matches.

The Serb is also unbeaten against Malaysia in all five previous encounters in Singapore.

Unfortunately for Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh and his men, Avramovic is back and in their way again in the Suzuki Cup, this time as Myanmar coach.

The two sides will meet in the Group B opener on Sunday at Jalan Besar Stadium, before defending champions Singapore host tournament favourites Thailand at the new National Stadium.

"It's the same players, Malaysia's team are mostly from the last Suzuki Cup and the one before that," Avramovic told The New Paper yesterday, after Myanmar's training session at Serangoon Stadium.

He is right, of course.

Thirteen players out of the 22-man Malaysian squad have been retained from 2012, while Muslim Ahmad and old warhorses Shukor Adan, Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Amri Yahyah featured in the biennial event from as far back as 2002.

Myanmar will be keen to tap on Avramovic's wealth of experience if they want to get a positive result against Malaysia and heap pressure on favourites Thailand and co-hosts Singapore.

Yesterday, with the aid of a translator, Avramovic put his charges through familiar drills on a familiar artificial turf, which was actually the old Jalan Besar carpet that used to be his former stomping ground with the Lions.

CONCERN

He did have his concerns about the artificial pitch because his team had trained only on grass before yesterday.

"We try to adapt, but even this is not going to be the same as the one in Jalan Besar now," he said.

Avramovic, who took over as Myanmar coach in February this year, has already delivered results.

Under him, Myanmar won the Peace Cup in September and were unbeaten as they finished top of last month's Suzuki Cup qualifiers.

For this competition, he has called up three youngsters - 18-year-old midfielders Kyaw Min Oo and Nyein Chan Aung and 17-year-old striker Than Paing - who were part of the Myanmar Under-20 team that created history by qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup Finals.

Some critics feel the ASEAN showpiece may have come too soon for the White Angels.

With an average age of around 23, being drawn in a group with teams that account for eight out of the nine past winners (Malaysia 1, Thailand 3, Singapore 4) could be a step too far.

"We have talented players, but they need to change their mindset and approach to the game," said Avramovic.

"They have to realise fast that this game is about the team and not individuals."

If Myanmar are to pull off the improbable, they will need their star striker Kyaw Ko Ko and midfield maestro Kyi Lin to fire on all cylinders.

The 21-year-old Kyaw burst into prominence in 2011 when he scored five goals at the South-east Asia Games to help Myanmar win bronze, and both players have identical international records, six goals and 19 caps.

While Kyi looked like he has a back injury, Kyaw was burying his shots into the corners yesterday.

"I have no personal target about how many goals to score, and I don't feel the pressure because I have a lot of support from my teammates," said Kyaw.

"All three opponents in this group are better than us, but we are a good combination and we will try our best to get the wins to get out of the group stages."

"Raddy is one of the best coaches in this region."

"He has warmed up to the players and in the past few weeks we have gone through video analysis to learn how Malaysia will play, so we are ready."

MYANMAR'S PROVISIONAL SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Thiha Sithu, Kyaw Zin Phyo, Pyay Phyo Aung

Defenders: Khim Maung Lwin, Aung Zaw, Nay Myo Aung, Win Min Htut, Zaw Min Tun, Si Thu Aung, Thein Zaw

Midfielders: Aung Kyaw Naing, Min Min Thu, Yan Aung Kyaw, David Htan, Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit, Kyaw Min Oo, Nyein Chan Aung, Chit Su Moe, Kyi Lin, Tin Win Aung, Kyaw Zeyar Win

Forwards: Kyaw Ko Ko, Soe Min Oo, Than Paing

davidlee@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on Nov 20, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.