Big clubs are, of course, usually strong sources of talent for national teams. UEFA Champions League winners Barcelona saw four of their star players called up by the current Spain team, while Juventus boast five for Italy. The likes of Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, have three players each selected for world champions Germany.
These clubs are, of course, among the world's best considering their qualities and achievements. Though, they all pale into insignificance compared with little-known Yangon United - a club formed only in 2009 - when it comes to supplying personnel to the national team. The four-time Myanmar champions provided as many as seven players for the national team that beat Laos 3-1 at home in the last qualifying game for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Four of the Yangon gang started against Laos as they clinched their first qualifying victory. Captain Khin Maung Lwin and Zaw Min Tun shored up the defense while Yan Aung Kyaw bossed the midfield. Spearheading the attack was none other than fan-favorite Kyaw Ko Ko, who put his side in front after Suan Lam Maung cancelled out Khampjeng Sayavutthi's early opener for the opponents.
"We have seven players in the national team and this is a big advantage for us," the 22-year-old Yangon marksman told FIFA.com. "Because we play for the same club we have telepathic understanding between each other during play."
"Our club is the kings of Myanmar," the striker continued speaking of his team who wrapped up their title-winning league campaign with a 6-2 victory against Chin United recently. "During the past seven seasons we have won the national league a record four times. We have made a lot of records with our team. Particularly, we claimed this season’s title with an eight-point cushion ahead of second-placed Yadanarbon FC."
Echoing those thoughts was Aung Kyaw, who is looking to translate club success on the international front. "Four titles are not many but it is impressive considering our league started only in 2009," the 26-year-old Yangon and Myanmar playmaker said. "I wonder if any other clubs have achieved similar feats. That is why we can provide strong support for the national team. We not only want to win all domestic titles, but also to play for the national team with our hearts."
Yangon's contribution for Myanmar didn't go unnoticed by new coach Gerd Zeise, who recently replaced Radojko Avramovic. "Yangon is definitely a big club in the country," the German coach, who took Myanmar to this year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, told FIFA.com.
"They have good management, top-quality facilities and particularly, a well-planned youth development program. With the fast progress made in the league, they can provide consistent help for the national team."
Awaiting Myanmar in next Thursday's FIFA World Cup fixture is hosts Korea Republic, an Asian powerhouse who are 113 places above them in the current FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. While even an away draw looks beyond their grasp, the visitors won't give up without a fight said Ko Ko.
"You know Yangon’s nickname is The Lions. A lion is the king of the forest who never diminishes his efforts in hunting whatever the prey. So are we Yangon players when we play for both club and country. We won't cease to battle regardless of the opponents facing us."
Myanmar are currently sitting fourth in a group which also features Kuwait and Lebanon with four points from five outings. While their hopes of finishing among the top three are slim, the team are motivated to accumulate points in the competition which doubles as qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Even a strong fourth-finish could secure them a place in the qualifying for the continental showpiece. For coach Zeise, the Yangon gang, with their young stars in particular, remain the team's driving force.
"Among our key players are two U-23 players from Yangon," he said. "Ko Ko is an important player. So is Khi Lin who can decide a match. To achieve success we should place faith in young players who are waiting for their chances. We will continue to mix youngsters together with experienced players as we aim to build a competitive team."