Monday, September 25, 2017

Battle for Bahtoo

Supporters have a history of letting emotion get the better of them on Myanmar’s derby day. That’s unlikely to change at 4pm tomorrow when Yangon and Yadanarbon face off once more at Mandalay’s Bahtoo Stadium.

Yangon fans celebrate during their 3-2 win last year at Yadanarbon’s Bahtoo Stadium. Photo: Yangon United / FacebookYangon fans celebrate during their 3-2 win last year at Yadanarbon’s Bahtoo Stadium. Photo: Yangon United / Facebook

“There’s a great atmosphere up in Bahtoo but they [the crowd] do get a bit carried away. They can be a bit fanatical,” Eric Williams, former Yangon United manager who has experienced the wrath of the Mandalay ultras before, told The Myanmar Times yesterday.

The intense rivalry for the “Myanmar Derby” as fans are fond of calling it stems from the sides’ representing the two most populous cities, but has grown in importance since the teams from Yangon and Mandalay have between them claimed every league title since Yadanarbon beat Yangon on penalties in the decider of Myanmar’s first professional season back in 2009.

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This stakes in this game are high. Despite guiding Yangon to their first national title the year prior, Williams resigned from his first stint at the Lions in 2012 after Yadanarbon came back from two goals down to rescue a draw.

When he returned to Myanmar, the game hadn’t diminished in importance, as a capacity crowd delivered a raucous welcome.

“In 2014, it was the biggest game of the season,” said Williams. “We lost it in the 75th minute but by that point the game had already been stopped three times because their fans were throwing things at our goalkeeper.”

“In the post-match press conference they brought in a selection of the things they’d picked off the pitch. Somebody had picked up a manicure set. It was a very nice one, but it would have hurt someone,” added Williams.

Yangon has marginally had the better of league meetings between the sides, with four wins to Yadanarbon’s two and eight draws – excluding Yadanarbon’s victory on penalties in the league’s 2009 play-off finale.

In 2010 – the first full-length season – the Mandalay side claimed victory in the league for a second time. However the second half of that season saw the arrival of Williams and the beginning of Yangon’s ascendency. Although Yadanarbon could not be caught for the title, Yangon came out on top 4-1 in front of what Williams calls an “electric” Thuwunna YTC Stadium.

The next three years under Williams and former national coach Ivan Kolev saw Yangon win the title three times on the bounce. Yadanarbon wrest back control in 2014 before Yangon secured last year’s top spot.

With the number of titles now resting at four to Yangon and three to Yadanarbon, the Mandalay side are five points clear at the top of the table after 10 games. The Myanmar derby will mark the half-way point in the season and the Lions sit – with a game in hand – 10 points behind the Palace Guards.

Yangon experienced a poor start to the 2016 season, with instability at the top seeing the departure of head coach Emerson Alcântara after just one game and his replacement Marjan Sekulovski taking time to assert control.

Five games ago, as Yangon headed into Week 6 with a total of only four points, Sekulovski was reported as targeting 20 points from the first half of the season. Such ambition meant the team must gather five wins and a draw. It was clear that the difficult trip to Bahtoo Stadium was the draw he had in mind.

Realistically if Yangon are to defend the title this season they need to deliver a result tomorrow that will send tremors through the Yadanarbon side and rile up the vociferous home fans.

But players and staff at the Lions told Myanmar Special that preparations for the game had not been up to scratch as both sides have lost players to Myanmar’s extended international break. Players have only just returned from duty after Tuesday night’s draw with Lebanon.

“We’ve prepared as best we can and we’ll try to deliver three points for our team and for our fans,” said Yangon defender Thein Zaw.

The weight of expectation at a packed Mandalay arena may prove overawing for Yadanarbon’s players who have only won a Myanmar Derby once at home and will be without both their captain and manager for the big game.

The influential veteran Yan Paing, whose big presence both literally and figuratively in central midfield provides leadership and direction to the side, even though his workload is often managed to only half a game, is injured and unlikely to take to the pitch tomorrow.

On the coaching front both Sekulovski and his Belgian counterpart Yadanarbon’s Rene Desaeyere are known for their lively pitch-side manner but the Belgian will be forced to watch from the stands after he received a red card during Yadanarbon’s last league game. During that match Desaeyere was escorted from the pitch by an armed guard, apparently for his own safety after Hantharwady United fans took issue with his behaviour toward one of their players.

This weekend’s Myanmar Derby holds a promise of the potential to be the most electric encounter yet.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Zwekapin United will entertain Ayeyawady at Thuwunna YTC Stadium. Early on in the season, the Kayin State representatives looked comfortable in their play and a strong shout for a top-three finish. But with two losses and a draw in their last three games, a win against Ayeyawady is required to sure up their challenge.

Sunday delivers games at the other end of the table as 11th-place Horizon face bottom-side Southern Myanmar at Aung San Stadium and 10th-place Rakhine host ninth-place Shan United.

Monday will also see two MNL-1 kick-offs as the in-form Chin United hope to carry on where they left off before the international break when they welcome Zeyar Shwe Myay to Aung San. In the day’s other game last-year’s surprise package Magwe – who finished 2015 in third position – will take on this year’s underdogs, the currently second-place Hantharwady United.

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Myanmar National League – 2 also plays the final week of the first half of the season with Manaw Myay and GFA battling to lead the division into the break.

League – 2 will return on May 27, a week after the first fixtures in the General Aung San Shield are expected to be played between May 18 and 20. League – 1 is due to resume on May 21.

10 19 20
10 10 22
10 6 21
Ayeyawady United
10 5 15
Rakhine United
10 0 14
Magwe FC
10 -2 13
Zwekapin United
10 -4 13
Nay Pyi Taw FC
10 -8 9
10 -6 8
10 -6 7
Chin United
10 -7 7
10 -7 6
Last Updated - 1 April 2017
Manaw Myay
22 51 52
22 21 49
Nay Pyi Taw FC
22 33 48
Mahar United
22 31 48
Myawady FC
22 23 36
Mawyawadi FC
22 1 35
City Stars
22 1 28
University FC
22 -17 23
Dagon FC
22 -11 20
Pong Gan
22 -37 12
United of Thanlyin
22 -47 11
Silver Stars
22 -49 10
Last Updated - 28 August 2016