Despite not playing a single match over the past three months, Sri Lanka and Myanmar have both made significant strides up August's FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Sri Lanka climbed up six rungs to rank 156th, however, it was the south-east Asian nation that impressed most by shooting up eight places to 147.
It was not too long ago that the two countries hit Asian headlines with their form in April's preliminaries for the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup, where they topped their respective sections to progress to the continental finals. The successful qualification campaign has the two nations hopeful of further glory with the winner to earn a berth at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup alongside 2008 winner India.
Lankans battle through
Sri Lanka were the first of the two sides to embark on the qualifying campaign with their group kicking off in early April. Under coach Kolonnage Mayura Sampath, the Lions got off to a dream start by crushing Brunei 5-1, before overcoming a resilient Chinese Taipei 2-1 two days later.
With six points garnered from the opening two matches, they needed just a point to go through going into the closing game against Pakistan, who themselves needed to secure all three points to progress. Sri Lanka commenced brightly with defender Rohana Thilaka opening the scoring after only two minutes. But the Pakistanis pulled level through Khan Safiullah before Bashir Qureshi put them into an unlikely lead. With their campaign on the line, Sri Lanka had to count on a dramatic last-gasp equaliser from Sanjeev Shanmugarajah to scrape through.
Aside from the match-winning substitute striker Shamugarajah, the Lions also owed thanks to goal-ace Kasun Jayasuriya, who showed his ability in the penalty area with five goals in two outings. The 29-year-old Ratnam SC man, who has been the Sri Lankan Premier League top-scorer over the past three seasons, was on target four times in their opening trouncing of Brunei. He then went on to net his fifth against Chinese Taipei with the opening goal of the game.
Roller coaster for Myanmar
If their title-winning performance at last year's Myanmar Grand Royal Challenge Cup was anything to go by, it was no surprise that Tin Myint Aung's team continued their regional dominance to win the qualifying group in April that also featured Macau, Cambodia and hosts Bangladesh.
Despite playing without their phenomenal striker and captain Soe Myat Min, Myanmar made relatively light work of their qualifying campaign. They outclassed Macau in the opener, firing four unanswered goals with Khin Maung Lwin, Yaza Win Thein, Myo Min Tun and Pyaye Phyo Oo on target.
In the next match two days later, Myanmar fought back from a goal down to overcome the hosts, with substitute Pai Soe completing a brace in the second half. Then came the decisive game against Cambodia who kept Myanmar at bay throughout 90 minutes before Yaza Win Thein struck the only goal deep into injury time.
Myanmar finished fourth in their first appearance in the AFC Challenge Cup finals last year and with the team making sustained progress, Tin Myint is hoping he can improve further on the top-four finish in the forthcoming continental finals next February. "I am happy that we sealed qualification with these new players and I am confident that they will maintain the momentum in the final tournament."