Myanmar wins runner-up at AFL Asia Champs
MUD sprayed and men collided, and after 30 minutes of battling through a torrential downpour, the tournament was over: Myanmar’s Fighting Cocks watched as the Bali Geckos erupted into cheers, celebrating a 5.5.35 to 1.4.10 win in the AFL Asia Championships Division Two Grand Final in Ho Chi Minh City on October 15.
It was the first Grand Final victory for Bali, who have had a club for nearly 17 years, and the first Grand Final appearance for Myanmar, playing in their second-ever Asia Championships. Despite the loss, club captain Andrew Romanin said the weekend’s tournament was the finest showing ever for the young footy club.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the playing group and club,” Romanin said. “While we didn’t get the win on the day, we’ll be all the better for the experience and we look forward to going one better next year.”
The boys were the talk of the tournament leading up to the Grand Final, as they finished 2-1 in the group stage with sunny wins over Hong Kong B (9.3.57 to 1.2.8) and hosts Vietnam. Their only loss came to archrivals Laos, who took advantage of a horrific first-half injury to Cocks club president and star forward Henry Cox to pummel the Tai Kyet, 4.3.27 to 0.1.1.
Cox went after a loose ball at the same time as a Laos player: The ensuing head clash knocked him out cold for four minutes and brought play to a halt as medics tended to his injury. He would later return from the hospital with a minor concussion and several stitches, surprised to discover that the Cocks had qualified for the semi-finals after a dominant 8.3.51 to 2.0.12 win against the hosting Vietnam Swans B team.
“I didn’t really remember the game against Laos,” Cox said sheepishly.
The point differential against Vietnam proved large enough to score Myanmar a spot in the semi-finals over Laos despite having lost the head-to-head match up, and a motivated Cocks squad rose to the occasion against the Cambodia Eagles.
Just three months ago, the Cocks dropped a road contest against the Phnom Penh-based club 10.6.66 to 6.4.40, but as clouds gathered over Ho Chi Minh City, Myanmar looked determined to make their first trip to the semi-finals a successful one. Thanks to a stunning four-goal game from forward Jhie Gough and a few lucky breaks – including two Cambodian miscues off the posts from in close – the Cocks pulled away in the second half to a 7.1.43 to 3.8.26 finish.
The win set up a championship rematch against Bali, who beat Myanmar on home pitch earlier this year. As wind picked up and heavy rain poured down over the pitch, an apparent miscommunication saw Myanmar starting 14 players to Bali’s 12. Bali had played all of its matches at 12 a side based on mutual agreement, but Myanmar’s coaching staff said that the Geckos had not confirmed player numbers in advance.
Bali had its way after a tense discussion in the mud, and the Cocks were forced to shift into a 12-man formation they had not used all day. With a bandaged Cox looking on from the sidelines, the Tai Kyet started strong but began to falter after halftime. Bali capitalised on the extra space on the field, spreading its players out wide and finding open men in the pockets.
Despite the crushing defeat, players were in high spirits after the tournament. Myanmar’s three local players in particular had good form, as Han Tun Aung scored two goals on the day and won the annual “Fastest Man In Asia” foot race competition by an estimated 10 metres. After blowing away the competition he celebrated Usain Bolt-style, tugging his jersey as he ran to his teammates.
The Indochina Cup in Yangon next month will give the Cocks a chance to redeem their loss in Vietnam and continue their progress as an AFL Asia club.
Fullback Phil Germain summed up the tournament: “The thing that got me was Bali has been to 16 Asia Champs and only just won the first Grand Final. We have been to two Asian Champs and made Grand Final in our second attempt.” THE Football Association of Thailand yesterday said it will meet clubs to explain its decision to scrap the season with three matches to go following the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The king died on October 20 aged 88, sparking anguish among an adoring public and a prolonged official mourning period that will see all forms of entertainment – including sports events – “toned down” as a mark of respect.
The FAT swiftly cancelled the remainder of the season and said league rankings on October 14 will determine the champions and relegation candidates.
Meanwhile, cup finals will be decided by a draw.
But that sparked complaints from relegated clubs – including Thai Premier League outfits Chainat Hornbill FC and Army United – with a fighting chance of league survival with three rounds to go.
They were handed a lifeline when the FAT said it would meet them following complaints.
“The FAT invites football clubs’ chairmen, representatives and sponsors to hear the explanation,” over the decision on October 17, the body said in statement on its Facebook page.
Chainat and Army United have complained at their “unfair relegation with three matches and nine points to play for”, according to leading daily newspaper Siam Sport.
Both were on 30 points as of October 14, with five other clubs mathematically able to slip into the drop zone.
At the top, league big boys SCG Muangthong United were gifted the TPL title, although they were just five points ahead of second-placed Bangkok United.
An international friendly with Iran on November has been cancelled, while Thailand wants to shift a November 15 home World Cup qualifier to Australia.
A crowd of Fighting Cocks fight for a mark against Laos at the AFL Asia Championships.