AFF Suzuki Cup: Interview with Myanmar coach Gerd Zeise

They’ve never reached the FIFA World Cup, only once participated in the AFC Asian Cup and in ten previous attempts have only progressed from the group stage on the sole occasion at the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Now, Myanmar is on the verge of reaching the semifinals at the biennial championships in front of an expectant home crowd following impressive performances against both Vietnam and Cambodia.

That’s left the White Angels needing only a point in their final group match, against Malaysia, to reach the last four and on the eve of that clash coach Gerd Zeise sat down for a wide-ranging, exclusive, interview with FOX Sports Asia to explain just how the match will be won, his thoughts on some stars who should push for a move outside the country and just what his favourite local dish is.

FSA: Gerd Zeise, thanks for speaking to FOX Sports Asia. Firstly, your team is now in the box seat to qualify for the last four but how does knowing that a draw will be enough affect your preparation?

GZ: That can actually be a problem in some way and it needs many talks with the players and you cannot play for one point, that’s impossible. 

If you play for one point you’ll lose – I’ve told the players that already and I’ve told them that a draw is not possible and that won’t accept a draw. 

It’s a 50/50 match and we want to go for a win but from what I saw from Malaysia against Vietnam they are a very strong team and it will be very difficult.

FSA: What’s impressed you about the Malaysian team?

GZ: Against Vietnam they were good; Vietnam are the top team in the group and Malaysia had their chances.

FSA: Have you found any weaknesses you can exploit?

GZ: If we play fast we will find our target, so we must play fast and change sides, switching play and in defence, I’m sure we can make something too.

FSA: Given that this will be your third match in the space of a week how much do you look to rotate the squad?

GZ: For me, it’s not so easy to rotate. When I rotate I have a different team on the pitch and lose. You saw against Cambodia, I put two new players in the central midfield and basically, the captain was okay but the others I can’t be satisfied with and against Malaysia, we can’t play that way.

FSA: Of course, it’s a team sport but have there been any players who have exceeded your expectations and impressed you?

GZ: I’m always surprised by Maung Maung Lwin, he has movement you cannot expect; Aung Thu has also been good, the captain, Yan Aung Kyaw is okay and against Cambodia even though he was suffering with health problems Myo Ko Tun was brilliant too.

FSA: One player outside your team, Cambodia’s Chan Vathanaka, has been linked with a move to Japan, firstly do you think he’s capable of playing at that level and secondly do you think any of your players are also ready for the step up to a bigger league outside Myanmar?

GZ: Vathanaka, yes, he can play there definitely. He’s a fantastic player, he has the body and the skills and technique and a good left foot – definitely, he can play. As for Myanmar when we were in Cyprus earlier this month they were interested in signing our defender Nanda Kyaw, and both him and Aung Thu and Maung Maung Lwin can definitely play in Japan or Korea but probably only in the second division. 

FSA: How intense is the pressure of being hosts and now having the entire nation expect you to reach the semifinals?

GZ: After the Vietnam match the pressure was released slightly but before it was coming from every side and you could not find peace anywhere, anytime, and there were disturbances from every side and with the Cambodia match we knew we must win but that was okay – we must and now it’s the same with Malaysia but that’s okay because you expect that in football. 

FSA: Finally, we understand that you gave the players a little bit of time to relax and recover the day after the match with Cambodia and that they went to eat lunch together at a local restaurant, how does that process work and what’s your favourite local food?

GZ:They had the morning off after the Cambodia match and then did a pool recovery session and massage and we had a team lunch at a local restaurant the players like before again returning to training. It’s important to let them eat some food they enjoy and I also like the local food a lot too; my favourite dish is Ngapi kyaw (a Burmese dish made from a kind of shrimp paste), it’s good!

By Scott McIntyre