It may raise an eyebrow or two but back in the 1960s and 70s, Myanmar was a football powerhouse in Asia. The country – known then as Burma – was the envy of many with a creative short-passing game that helped them to impressive performances in both regional and continental competitions.
But Myanmar's halcyon days did not last long. From the 1980s onwards, the country tumbled rapidly down the hierarchy of Asian football, with their former brilliance a fading memory once the 1990s had kicked in.
However with the turn of the century came a change in fortunes for football in the South-east Asian nation. And witnessing the powerful effect the popular game had among its inhabitants, Myanmar’s authorities were keen to grab the opportunity and invest in their football future.
major push on that road to a footballing renaissance has come from FIFA with, as part of its Goal Programme, the construction of a new federation headquarters, a training centre and two training fields.
On 23 May, in the presence of Myanmar Government and National Olympic Council officials, the new, state-of-the-art facilities were inaugurated in the capital Yangon.
Even the heavy rain that fell throughout the inauguration ceremony could not dampen the joy of the occasion as the Minister of Sport, Brigadier General Thura Aye Myint, proudly unveiled the new structures.
"I'm sure this project will be the catalyst for the revival of Myanmar football to the heights it attained in decades gone by," said Thura Aye. “Hopefully the Goal project will spur the football federation to obtain local partners in the drive to secure more funding for Myanmar football.”
Chairman of the FIFA Goal Bureau, Mohamed Bin Hammam, was particularly impressed by the work undertaken and the commitment of the local football community. Although the AFC President has witnessed scores of Goal projects in the past months alone, he admitted Myanmar’s was one of the best.
The following day, the FIFA delegation took a 90-minute flight to Mandalay where, as part of the Goal project, renovations - a facelift to the grandstand and improvements to dressing rooms, toilets and perimeter fencing - had been carried out on Mandalay Stadium.
The projects in Yangon and Mandalay could soon be followed by others in the second phase of FIFA’s Goal Programme. And although they may be small steps, Myanmar has finally found the right track out of its footballing wilderness.