Even underdogs have their day. As Asian’s top six teams slid down October’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, a pair of minnows made eye-catching ascents.
Myanmar and Laos were the best performers at last month's AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying competition, sealing progression to this month’s regional competition.
Myanmar, who racked up three victories and a draw to win the five-team tournament, climbed six places to 137th on the global ladder. That maintained their status as the region’s third highest-positioned side, behind Philippines and Vietnam. After falling 43 places in March – their worst ever descent – Myanmar have made constant progress.
Laos, meanwhile, soared 15 slots to 154th courtesy of their runners-up finish. That double-digit jump saw them become Asia's best movers in October’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
Avramovic delivers trophy
Myanmar, continental pioneers who finished second in the 1968 AFC Asian Cup, have climbed 36 places in recent months. The White Angels’ progress is indebted to Radojko Avramovic, who assumed their reins in February.
They moved up 14 places in June, largely courtesy of their spirited 3-2 defeat of hosts Maldives in May's AFC Challenge Cup. A 6-0 friendly loss to Vietnam may have briefly seen them slip a place to 160th in July, but Avramovic's men bounced back with a significant 17-place rise to 143rd in September. That owed to their triumphant Philippine Peace Cup campaign, during which they swept past Palestine and the hosts to win the four-nation friendly event.
Campaign-hardened and morale-boosted, Myanmar entered last month's AFF Suzuki Cup determined to realise Avramovic's goal: to win not just one game, but the entire tournament. And they duly achieved it with an undefeated record. Despite being held to a goalless draw by Timor-Leste in the opener, Myanmar beat Brunei 3-1 to get back on track. A narrow victory over Cambodia maintained their place in the top two, before a decisive 2-1 reverse of Laos saw them lift the trophy.
"In the end, we won this tournament, which came as a testament to the team's progress," said the 64-year-old Avramovic, who clinched three AFF Suzuki Cup titles during his ten-year tenure in charge of Singapore. "Now we’ll see what we can do next.
“We will do our best to win as many matches as possible. I would like to see the team improve game after game."
English aid for Laos
Like Myanmar, Laos's successful qualification to the regional finals can be partly attributed to a foreign coach. Englishman David Booth boasts vast Asian experience, having spent the past 18 years coaching a series of club and national teams across the continent, including a short spell with Laos from 2010-11.
Since he regained the reins early this year, the former Grimsby Town manager has left no stone unturned in preparing his side to reach the AFF Suzuki Cup. This September's Asian Games provided him with a rare chance to take stock of his team and although they lost all three games, they gained valuable experience which stood them in good stead during Suzuki Cup qualification.
Indeed, the Laotians, playing as hosts, got their qualifying run off to a brilliant start by edging Cambodia 3-2. A 4-2 defeat of Brunei was followed by a 2-0 victory over Timor-Leste, which sent Booth's team top. Although they lost to Myanmar, Laos finished runners-up to qualify.
"We’re not the same Laos team that’s been around for the last two or three years," a proud Booth said, looking ahead to the regional finals in Singapore and Vietnam. "We’re changing and we’re stepping up to the plate a little bit better than we used to. Most games we’ve played, we’ve performed well.”