Balestier’s Burmese Trio: Can they do a Jermaine Pennant?

Balestier Khalsa made history when they signed three Myanmar internationals and there are signs perhaps that they could impact the S.League in a similar manner that Jermaine Pennant did last year…

Adding quality to the league

Balestier’s Myanmar trio seem pretty decent so far and definitely helped sharpen the team’s offence.

Sure, their playing level cannot be compared with former Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant, who signed for Tampines Rovers in 2016 .

But there was enough evidence in their debuts against Warriors FC to suggest that they could light up the S.League.

Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit — 6

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Nanda is a pacey winger and he fits right in at Balestier

Deployed on the left side of a three-pronged attack along with Hazzuwan Halim and Aung Kyaw Naing, Nanda Lin worked hard and got to the byline a few times to put crosses in.

The 25-year-old took charge of a couple of set pieces, but the deliveries left a bit to be desired. He could have gotten on the scoresheet in the second half, but saw his fierce snapshot in the box parried away by Warriors keeper Basil Chan and was eventually subbed on 83 minutes.

Kyaw Zayar Win — 6

The second Burmese player Zayar Win was lined up in central midfield alongside Raihan Rahman. The 25-year-old looked pretty comfortable when in possession early on and tried to dictate the play from deep to mixed effect.

His influence on the game waned in the second half and that could be down to a lack of familiarity with his new teammates. Unlike the other two, he did not have a pre-season game with the team under his belt.

Aung Kyaw Naing  — 7

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Aung had an impressive debut where he pulled the strings in midfield

Among the trio, Kyaw Naing should be the happiest one with his day's work. Despite standing at just 1.66m, the 22-year-old showed bravery to challenge for aerial 50-50s with bigger and stronger defenders like Baihakki Khaizan and Kento Fukuda.

He worked tirelessly as the lone man upfront, with his direct runs causing the Warriors defence a few problems. It was his lung-bursting run into the box just before the half-hour mark, that earned the penalty for Balestier's first goal.

Kyaw Naing could even have netted an early goal of the season contender, if his 40-yard lob in the second half had dipped into the Warriors goal.

He ended the night by earning a late free-kick just outside the box, which goalkeeper and captain Zaiful Nizam curled into the post. Promising stuff from the youngster...

Attracting more fans

Balestier made no secret of their desire to fill up Toa Payoh Stadium and felt that the signing of Myanmar internationals Aung Kyaw Naing, Kyaw Zayar Win and Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit could perhaps help them achieve this goal.

Judging by the crowd that came by for Balestier’s season opener against Warriors FC, the Tigers’ direction of marketing has been somewhat vindicated.

After days of promotion to the Myanmar nationals living in Singapore, a sizeable crowd appeared at Toa Payoh Stadium on Tuesday evening.

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Appealing to the Myanmar nationals in Singapore has helped brought in more fans

This helped Balestier gained an official attendance of 1,975 fans — better than the highest home attendance of 1,616 Balestier achieved in a 1-1 draw with Albirex Niigata (S) last season.

For a stadium where the attendance usually averages around the hundreds, it was a breath of fresh air to see the stands packed with people and excitement.

However, it must be noted that when Pennant signed for Tampines, the S.League too enjoyed an increase in game attendance in the initial stages of the season, only to see attendance fall again.

Enticing more Myanmar fans to the stadium will surely boost the club’s coffers but Balestier need to ensure that this carries on for the rest of the season.

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It has been a while since Toa Payoh had such a crowd

Photos: Balestier Khalsa