Yangon: Than Paing expressed his delight at netting the winning goal as Yangon United defeated Singapore's Hougang United 1-0 in Group F of the 2020 AFC Cup on Tuesday to make it seven points from three games for the Myanmar side.
Hosts Yangon went into the game at Thuwunna Stadium on the back of a draw against Ho Chi Minh City FC and a win over Lao Toyota FC, and they were by far the better side throughout but missed numerous gilt-edged chances as Hougang sought to hold on for a point.
However, as the match entered its final 10 minutes, Yangon finally broke the deadlock as Maung Maung Lwin played in substitute Than Paing, who produced a calm finish into the bottom left corner with his first-ever goal in the AFC Cup as the home team claimed what could prove a valuable victory.
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"We had many chances in both halves but we didn't finish well and, although we earned a narrow win, I think we should have scored more goals," admitted Than Paing, who was brought on midway through the second half.
"We were able to take advantage of a defensive mistake for my goal and I'm thrilled I scored the winning goal, so I want to express my heartfelt thanks to my teammates and coaches who believed in me.
"However, the performance is the most important thing and we need to improve for the coming games. If we don't do well then we won't earn any more points."
The game marked Yangon's third successive match on home soil after their opening-day clash with Ho Chi Minh City FC, originally scheduled to take place in Vietnam, was switched to Myanmar due to the Covid-19 situation.
After impressing in a 2-2 draw against the Vietnamese side, Yangon have claimed back-to-back wins over Lao Toyota and Hougang as they stay neck-and-neck with Ho Chi Minh City at the top of the standings.
But while they have been near perfect on home territory, Yangon now face the prospect of three games on the road as their bid to qualify for the knockout rounds for the first time since 2018 is likely to become ever more challenging.
"When we look at the group, it's nice to have seven points at the halfway stage, but we now have to play three games away from home," said the Myanmar international.
"We need to produce more controlled performances and pay more attention to detail. The players must follow the coach's instructions and, if we do so, the [positive] results will come.
"It is important to respect each opponent we face, but I really believe we will hit peak form in the coming games."
Yangon will travel to Singapore in mid-April for the reverse meeting with Hougang, who they sit four points above, before what could well prove the group decider against Ho Chi Minh City on Matchday Five.
Their final game will take place against Lao Toyota in Vientiane on May 13, when Yangon will aim to progress to the AFC Cup knockout rounds for the fourth time.
"If I had to mention our main rival for qualification from the group, I'd say Ho Chi Minh City," added Than Paing. "Having played them recently, we know how good they are and we will have to prepare well to approach that game the right way."
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