A good news story is now a fiasco, with a cloud hanging over Myanmar's U22 qualification
It looked to be a fantastic achievement by a relative minnow of not only Asian football, but South East Asian football.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, finished second in their group behind South Korea to qualify for the 2014 U22 AFC Asian Cup, ahead of the more fancied Malaysia. But there is now a stench hanging over their qualification and it’s one the Asian Football Confederation simply must address.
From about midway through the qualifying tournament, which they hosted, rumours began to circle that Myanmar were fielding up to eight overage players. Eight. The AFC insisted that as far as they were concerned everything was in order. But then, they would say that wouldn’t they.
One blog is on the chase, and after contacting the AFC, were informed:
“Nice to hear from you. According to the documents registered with us, these players are eligible (age-wise) for the tournament. AFC has a strict policy under which it ensures that due diligence is observed in the player registration process for all its tournaments. Hope this helps.”
After losing to Myanmar 2-1 in their final group game, and thus ending any chance they had of qualifying, it was reported that the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) would launch an official protest over the allegations. Good, let’s get the issue sorted once and for all and either put it to bed, or disqualify Myanmar for flagrantly flouting the rules.
But there are murmurs in Malaysia tonight that the FAM will not follow through with their threat, with the rumour mill suggesting a “lack of evidence” is the reason.
You can bet your bottom dollar that if no protest is received the AFC will not investigate, but that quite simply is not good enough. This simply has to be investigated as there is now a black cloud hanging over their qualification.
A good news story is now a fiasco.
Kyaw Zayar Win, the captain of the U23 side, who plays his club football for Kanbawza, was on the bench for his side in their Singapore Cup clash against Loyola on Thursday night. His age according to the team sheet? 24.
There are other suspicious cases as well.
Kaung Si Thu, who scored both goals in their crucial win over Malaysia, is listed on the official website of his club, Yangon United, as being 25 years old. Or that should be "was", as the site has since been updated to show his age as 19.
The comments from his club manager are damning:
“I don’t like any form of age cheating. But in Myanmar football, it has become second nature. We need more time to fix it,” U Aung Kyaw Lwin, Yangon United FC manager, told the Myanmar Times earlier this year.
“When Kaung Si Thu was asked to play U19, I said no because he was already 23. But for U21, I yielded.”
In the same article the manager of the U21 team, U Tin Myint Aung, openly admitted the practice of fielding overage players, claiming it was necessary for the development of football in the country.
“It is not good at all for the senior players to play at the lower level. But unless they play, their experience will be very limited because professional players in Myanmar play so few games. It results in players in their 20s being forced to participate in several youth tournaments. We have no choice but to let them go,” U Tin Myint Aung said.
The case of Thet Niang is another curious one. According to the website of his club, Yadanarbon FC, he is 23 years old.
And yet with all this evidence in front of them, there has been silence from the AFC, in any official capacity anyway. In fact, they’ve seemingly given it the green light.
Let’s hope the FAM follows through with their threat to protest, but if not there is enough evidence and suspicion for the AFC to launch their own investigation.
The ball is in their court.