Muang Thong United FC claimed their second domestic title in a row after finishing top of the 16-strong Thai Premier League. Needing just a point to retain the championship entering the concluding round at Tot Cat on Sunday, the team from central Thailand rounded off the 2010 season in style, running out 2-1 winners over the hosts to finish four points clear of second-placed Buriram PEA.
The Thai giants, nicknamed Twin Qilins, seemed likely to clinch the trophy in the penultimate round with victory away at Samut Songkhram. But they came away with a goalless draw forcing them to endure a nervous final day.
It proved a breath-taking game against Tot Cat as Muang Thong had to battle from one goal down to edge the hosts out and secure the title. Wicha Natasri put the home side ahead just before the break, but the visitors rallied in the second half with Christian Kouakou drawing them level with a quarter-hour to play, before Dagno Siaka sealed a dramatic triumph with a penalty-kick just three minutes from time.
By any standards, Muang Thong’s rise to fame has been meteoric. Founded in 1989, the Twin Qilins development from humble origins into a major power on the domestic stage has occurred at an incredible rate.
They may have taken nearly two decades to reach the second division in 2007 but that success evidently sparked them into life as the debutants won the third tier competition to earn promotion to the first division. Another surprise title-winning success the following year saw them graduate into the top flight in 2009, during which they continued their stunning run by emerging Thai kings at the first attempt.
Muang Thong's unprecedented success is partly attributable to their strong financial support, allowing them to import local and international players their fellow clubs may only dream of. Chief among the notables is captain Nataporn Phanrit, who is a long-serving Thailand international in the heart of defence, while national team goalkeeper Narongchai Vachiraban has played a key role conceding only 19 goals across the course of the season. However it is Ivorian duo Dagno Siaka and Koné Mohamed who have proved the most successful signings of recent times, with the former on target 15 times to finish this season's second top-scorer, while the latter netted ten times.
Inspired by their success on the home front, the young club embarked on an attempt to translate their domestic dominance onto the Asian stage under Belgian René Desaeyere. And they proved they are more than capable of matching themselves alongside their continental rivals by storming into the last four of the 2010 AFC Cup, after earlier being eliminated in the play-off stage for the AFC Champions League.
Muang Thong reached the knockout stage of Asia’s second tier club competition having finished behind South China in a group also featuring Indonesia’s Persiwa Wamena and VB Sports of Maldives. A thrilling 4-2 extra-time victory over Qatar’s Al Rayyan sent them to the quarter-finals, where they eliminated Syria’s Al Karama 2-1 on aggregate. They went on to stun Al Ittihad of Syria 1-0 in the semi-final first leg, only to lose out 2-0 in the return match last week.
It is a decade and a half since Thailand claimed their last Asian laurels when Thai Farmers Bank won their second Asian Club Championship title in 1995. The clubs from the Land of Smiles have rarely made an impression on the international stage since, with BEC Tero Sasana's surprise runners-up performance in the inaugural AFC Champions League in 2003 the only shining light in recent years.
But this seems set to change with Muang Thong's rise as a serious contender for the AFC Cup. The club is guaranteed another tilt on the Asian stage next year due to their successful title defence, and the ambitious Twin Qilins have seemingly set their sights on achieving further glory.