In the 6th part of our team previews for AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan analyses the chances of dark horses Myanmar.
Given where Myanmar currently stand in Asian football, it is easy to forget that they were once powerhouses in the continent – having finished runners-up at the 1968 AFC Asian Cup, as well as winning consecutive Asian Games gold medals in 1966 and 1970.
With their decline coinciding with the start of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship in 1996, Myanmar have only made it out of the group stage twice in 11 tournaments.
Still, there is growing belief that Myanmar football is on the rise with their Under-20 side having reached the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015, while their last AFF Suzuki Cup – as the AFF Championship is known as now – appearance saw achieve a semi-final finish.
Here, FOX Sports Asia assesses their prospects at the upcoming biennial tournament.
November 12: Myanmar v Cambodia (Mandalarthiri Stadium, Mandalay)
November 16: Laos v Myanmar (New Laos National Stadium, Vientiane)
November 20: Myanmar v Vietnam (Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon)
November 24: Malaysia v Myanmar (Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Kuala Lumpur)
Despite only making it out of the group stage twice before, Myanmar have not been the stereotypical whipping boys but more of the mid-tier side that just falls short when competing against the bigger boys, as their record of 12 wins, nine draws and 19 losses suggests.
It was in 2004 when they reached the semi-finals for the first time as they impressively finished top of Group B ahead of Malaysia and Thailand, before succumbing to eventual champions Singapore in a heated semi-final encounter.
Two years ago, Myanmar repeated the feat – this time as runners-up of their group – but again were just outclassed by the team that went on to win it, Thailand.
ONE GAME NOT TO MISS
Given their geographical proximity, and as two of the heavyweights in Group A, Myanmar’s home game against Vietnam on November 20 is looming as a must-watch.
In their head-to-head record, Vietnam leads with three wins to Myanmar’s one, with the last of those going at the previous Suzuki Cup when the Vietnamese claimed a 2-1 triumph in the group stage.
And, with young stars like Aung Thu and Nguyen Quang Hai promising to light up the stage, the meeting between these two Mekong countries could be one of the clashes of the tournament.
Aung Thu – Although he ultimately was unable to help Police Tero from avoiding relegation, Aung Thu still had an excellent first season as a foreigner in Thai League 11 goals in the league to be their third-highest scorer, behind only Michael N’dri and Marcos Vinicius. The 22-year-old is proven at Suzuki Cup level, but could use the 2018 edition to further enhance his reputation.
Zaw Min Tun – With the likes of Aung Thu, Kyaw Ko Ko and Kyi Lin regularly hogging the limelight, plenty of Myanmar’s defenders have slipped under the radar over the years. Nonetheless, with his status as Myanmar’s record transfer fee holder, plenty can certainly be expected of centre-back Zaw Min Tun.
Maung Maung Lwin – Several Myanmar internationals have tasted football as a foreigner in 2018 and Maung Maung Lwin looks set to follow in their footsteps. The tricky winger was a revelation for Yangon United in their run to the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone semi-finals, and will definitely provide the national team with the X-factor at the Suzuki Cup.
Optimism has been high in Myanmar for awhile now but they are yet to really deliver on their promise.
A semi-final berth at the last Suzuki Cup was followed by failure to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 when their fate had initially been in their own hands.
Perhaps going all the way is still a bridge too far for this Myanmar side, but reaching the final must be a target if they are to prove they are the real deal.
Photo credit: Myanmar Football Federation