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England soccer's biggest fan: Burma?

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(Read caption) England vs. Algeria is today, and you can bet that Burma's citizens will be at the local tea house watching their favorite team take the pitch. Pictured, a Buddhist monk-in-training plays soccer in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar).

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The Burmese national soccer team may not have won many titles or ever qualified for the World Cup (it played its first qualifiers in 2007, losing both games to neighboring China), but this has not stopped the Burmese from having a passionate and knowledgeable obsession with soccer. And the team of choice to support? England.

From Rangoon to Bagan, locals discuss the latest matches, from internationals to obscure “friendlies,” and foreigners are bombarded with soccer chitchat with such statements as “I don’t think David Beckham will ever play again” to “The best asset for the World Cup is Wayne Rooney.” (See Top 10 World Cup players to watch.)

Having listened to BBC Radio or read stories online – often using proxies to access sites blocked by the government – soccer aficionados in Burma stay as up to date about the various league tables as the most ardent Liverpool fan who lives halfway across the globe.

The tea shops abundant on every street corner – which were preparing to show the World Cup games – regularly screen England’s matches. If there’s any one way the Burmese fans differ from most of their English counterparts, it’s the choice of drink: green tea instead of a yard of ale.

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