Yadanarbon crowned, newcomers fall as 2016 MNL season wraps
AFTER eight gruelling months of competition, curtains fell on the 2016 Myanmar National League-1 season on August 20 with familiar faces at both the top and the bottom of the table.
Yadanarbon FC finally received the hardware this past weekend after coasting the past month, the Mandalay side having clinched the season title on July 17 with a 1-0 victory over Zwekapin United.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment this year was the runners-up, Yangon United, who fell from both the 2015 MNL league title as well as an AFC cup berth, having been eliminated by Magwe Unitedin the General Aung San Shield final.
Shan United showed perhaps the greatest change over last season, adding a strong contingent of foreign players, a new coach and even a name change from KBZ FC. Although they entered the season eyeing a trophy, and finally playing on home turf, the Taunggyi side was unable to overcome a weak starting record of one win, four losses, and five draws, finally finishing fifth in the league. Keep an eye out, though: They’ll be back next year, stronger than ever.
Ayeyawady United and Hantharwady United both got off to hot starts – the latter briefly earning the moniker “Leicester City of Myanmar” for their 6-1-3 opening record – before being caught by more talented squads, including a Magwe team that finished with a strong 39 points.
Mandalay champions This year’s championship, Yadanarbon FC’s fourth, finally brings the Mandalay side toe-to-toe with Yangon United, holders of four season titles in the league’s eight-year history.
Yadanarbon’s record-tying title was made even sweeter by virtue of dual victories over their southern rivals, both at home in Week 11, 3-2, and away in Week 13, 2-1.
The Palace Guards were bolstered by the outstanding play of their younger players, chiefly Myo Ko Tun, Hlaing Bo Bo and striker striker Win Naing Soe, who led the league with 16 goals on the season. He put an exclamation point on the season’s accomplishment with a hat-trick in the General Aung San Shield semi-final round, over – who else – Yangon United.
Yadanarbon’s foreign players were also key contributors, most notably Liberian striker Keith Martu Nah, whose chemistry with midfielder Aung Thu created a goalscoring menace. Foreign additions Kekere Moukailou of Ivory Coast and William of Cameroon anchored a steadfast defensive side that allowed only 18 goals all season.
Top scorers The top scorers list marked a significant departure from last season’s – the addition of local striking talents – led by a multi-national dynamic duo that propelled Yadanarbon to the title.
The Mandalay side decisively led the pack this season, with 22-year-old forward Win Naing Soe and teammate Keith Martu Nah each scoring 16 goals. Ayeyawady United’s Nigerian striker Christopher Chizoba came in third with 15 goals, followed by national team star Kyaw Ko Ko’s 13 goals for Yangon United and Rakhine United’s Brazilian captain Andrey Coutinho with 10.
Relegation repeat The season ended in nightmare for the league’s newest additions, Southern Myanmar and Horizon, who find themselves in a familiar place: demotion back to MNL-2.
Promoted at the end of the 2015 season following dominating performances in the second-tier league, Southern and Horizon will bid goodbye to the MNL-1 after a lacklustre campaign that saw Horizon earn only 7 points. It’s clear they will need more experienced players and stronger squads before these two are able to take another crack at the higher-flying competition.
Rakhine United struck lucky, meanwhile, evading relegation for the second consecutive year after finishing three points above Southern Myanmar. In 2015, they managed to squeak out of the relegation zone by a distance of only 2 points over Manaw Myay, who now find themselves atop the MNL-2 with 51 points and eyeing return to the country’s premier league in 2017.
Aung San Shield comes home The General Aung San Shield returned to the national hero’s birthplace as Magwe FC seized victory for the first time in Myanmar’s premier knockout tournament with a 2-1 victory over Yangon United. Magwe’s victory also booked their ticket for their first international appearance, at the Asian Football Confederation Cup, which kicks off next year.
Yadanarbon continued their disappointing record in Myanmar’s knockout competitions, where they remain winless, while Yangon’s victory over their rivals in the semifinal provided a silver lining to what was otherwise an underachieving season for the reigning champions. But there’s always another year, and the Lions will enter an exciting 2017 season eyeing a tie-breaking fifth title, with Yadanarbon once again squarely in their sights.
Yadanarbon FC celebrates their season championship – the fourth in the club’s history – at the trophy ceremony on August 20.