Myanmar football: 2017 in review

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

2017 was a historic year in Myanmar football as a new club emerged as champions of the National League.

For the first time in nine seasons, the Yadanarbon-Yangon United duopoly was ended as Shan United came to the fore.

Not content with just winning the league, Shan also won the General Aung San Shield to follow in Yadanarbon and Yangon’s footsteps in achieving the double.

On the international front, it was also a fairly successful year for Gerd Zeise’s charges as they remain firmly in the hunt for 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification.

Here, FOX Sports Asia recaps all that happened in Myanmar football over the past 11 months.

WHAT HAPPENED AT HOME

On the eve of the new campaign, it was expected that either Yangon or Yadanarbon would go on to become champions.

With each passing week, however, momentum started to gather for Shan and, while they were rarely big winners, they became specialists at grinding out the results they needed.

It all came down to the final day of the season with Shan holding a two-point lead over four-time champions Yangon.

The challengers did all they could with a 7-0 win over Chin United but it proved to be in vain, as the leaders cruised to a 4-0 victory against Hantharwady United to wrap up the title.

That success came just three days after Shan had beaten Yangon 2-1 in the final of the General Aung San Shield.

TOP OF THE LOT

Clearly, Shan has earned the right to be the best team in the land for 2017.

They weren’t the most dominant side nor did they play the most fluid football, but they were resolute at the back and clinical up front.

5 things you should know about Shan United

Boasting a host of Myanmar internationals, including Thiha Sithu, Win Min Htut and Yan Naing Oo, Shan relied on a strong backbone and conceded just eight goals in the league, but also benefitted from an unstoppable Nigerian striker, whom we will touch on in a bit.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

As defending champions, Yadanarbon would have been disappointed to have ultimately finished seven points off the pace in third.

They may have boasted the most-prolific attack in the competition with 47 goals but also conceded 27, the worst defensive record from the top seven sides.

Yadanarbon also failed to give a good account of themselves in the AFC Cup with just one win in four Group H outings, while Magway did not fare much better as they picked up just two points from six games to finish bottom of Group F.

STARS OF THE SEASON

Aung Thu (Yadanarbon)

While Yadanarbon may have had a underwhelming season, Aung Thu continued to shine and it is no surprise he has been recently linked with a move to Thailand.

Granted, the 21-year-old may have only netted six goals in the league but he spent most of the year in a more withdrawn role and showed he has what it takes to play as a No. 10.

He also produced a star turn at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and finished the tournament as joint-top scorer with four goals, even if the Myanmar U-22s came up short in their gold medal bid.

Christopher Chizoba (Shan United)

Their impressive defensive record was a huge factor behind Shan’s success in 2017, but they still needed someone to bang in the goals to turn would-be draws into victories.

And that’s exactly what Chizoba did.

The Nigerian scored 15 of his side’s 37 goals throughout the campaign but, more importantly, he always rose to the occasion when they needed him most.

Particularly memorable was his 84th-minute strike, which ultimately proved to be the winner in a 3-2 triumph over Yadanarbon, in the penultimate week of the season.

It was from this point on that it really looked as though Shan’s dream was about to turn into reality.

Thiha Zaw (Ayeyawady United)

The Myanmar National League has no shortage of prolific local forwards but even the likes of Aung Thu and Kyaw Ko Ko failed to match the output of Thiha Zaw this season.

He may have been in and out of the national team in recent times but it will be difficult for Zeise to ignore his scoring form for much longer, especially considering he is an attacking midfielder by trade and not an out-and-out striker.

His eight goals significantly contributed to Ayeyawady United achieveing a respectable fourth-place finish and, still only 23, the future is bright for Thiha Zaw.

NATIONAL TEAM REPORT CARD

Given how much has been made of how well Myanmar have done in youth development over the years, fourth place at the SEA Games would have been viewed as a disappointment from the U-22s.

They spent much of the tournament looming as genuine contenders, only to be comprehensively outplayed by Thailand in the semi-finals.

Still, there were plenty of positive signs and the senior team can also be satisfied with what they have achieved in 2017.

With two games left to play in their 2019 Asian Cup qualifying campaign, the White Angels know their fate is very much in their own hands as victories over Kyrgyzstan and Macau – far from impossible results – would see them book their ticket to United Arab Emirates.

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