Asian Cup 2011 – Report Card

Qatar – B: How did Japan and South Korea go in 1991? Promising but not there. Ditto with United States in 1983. Even judging from their performance in the previous World Cup before they became the hosts, it seemed that they could only provide the home without the piano recital and the home made dinner.

How did Qatar go in the Asian Cup was how the best it could go. A third rate Asian team relying on expensive foreign coach, naturalized Latinos and uninterested local supporters. Qataris didn’t watch their national team – they watched the FA Cup. Its result was the best it could get. With the double surprises and close call against Japan. With the brilliant play against China. The humiliating opening match against Uzbekistan. That was pure Qatar. It has been compared to more achieving Bahrain. But this time it did better, and not because it is the host.

Uzbekistan – B: Fatigue? Screw it on the big day? For some reason Uzbekistan defense was a big shame in the semi final, after impressive domination in the group stage. Actually, scratch that. The only time Nesterov kept his clean sheet was during the opening match. But its attacking quality was something, with the exception against Australia. Maybe while Geynrikh could reclaim himself against Korea, they were THAT scared when already down 0-2 against Australia. Djeparov showed his credibility, but after one goal against Kuwait, Maksim Shatsikh lost his mojo and failed to regain it.

China – D: Big disappointment. Again. That’s what you get for insisting Adidas to design your jersey polo style, because you guys love polo shirt so much. Try again, only better. Deng Zhuoxiang, however, was probably the only man who could score from free kick in the tournament. Dunno, I didn’t see any Group D match.

KuwaitF: Hopeless. Maybe the result of deranged FA leadership.

Japan A: Again and again, Asia’s leader of the pack. Since childhood I always get impression that ‘Japan’s flashier, but Korea’s better”. This holds wrong in several tournaments, sometimes because Korea did worse – World Cup 98. Confed Cup 2001. World Cup 2010 (they both did well, but Japan won twice). Came in with a celebrity team, something that didn’t happen during the last decade, they looked like blew it in game against Jordan, and also in the third quarter against Syria. Its defense looked shaky, but its impressive, Euro- (okay, maybe…euh…Mexican? African?) quality attack prevailed in the ‘we score one goal more than you’ result. And that what matters. Finally, their victory against Australia shows that the white men are not only unbeatable, but also can be made to flunk every attempt. Just like in 1905.

Syria – C: Well, they did better than Saudi. That’s something.

JordanB: The surprise of the tournament. Less assuming than Syria which still has Al-Karamah football club. Their exported players play in second class Saudi teams and in Cyprus. Their foreign coach came from Iraq. And yet they were close to humiliate Japan and did the job against Saudi.  Their only mistake was only to do it worse than Uzbekistan.

Saudi – F: It’s their fault. It’s their fault for preventing players to go overseas, while criticizing Asian moguls for investing in European clubs instead of Asian ones (or that a cue to invest in Saudi?). With players from giants Al-Hilal & Al-Ittihad, they were supposed to be scary. Maybe the loss against Syria was a fu…bad luck, like what happened to Spain in South Africa. But Peserio was axed (figuratively, hopefully) also because of his record in the World Cup qualification. Still, like Kuwait, the biggest fault lies in the FA.

Korea – A: Great result from a U20 team. Who knows, an older team could not achieve a better result. I didn’t trust Ji Dong-Won much and had preferred for K-League top scorer Yoo Byung-Soo, who never came on pitch, but he still scored four goals, more than Euro based Japanese like Honda or Kagawa. Ko Ja-Cheol could become the second MVP, had not for his inconsistency in the play offs. Hopefully this new Golden Generation hopeful will stay consistent and deadly for the Olympics and World Cup qualification.

Australia A: This team made A-League fans happy. Well, there were only 3 players came from A-League and that’s because Jason Culina had past his prime for Europe, but Robbie Kruse and Matt McKay made the fans proud. Holger Osieck has also resurrected Harry Kewell and somewhat successful in making Tim Cahill a full-fledged forward. Still, seems he’s still unsure about the quality of the youth and the subs – too often he waited too long for subs, and Tommy Oar, Neil Kilkenny, and Scott McDonald failed to have quality time on field. Champions of 2015, unless Japan made an upset.

Bahrain C: Failed to surprise although they still tried to match the big two. Just bad draw which they failed to resist. But along with Uzbekistan, Bahrain is still a strong candidate for the extra World Cup spot.

India – C: I feared that India could become like NZ in World Cup or Philippines in the Suzuki Cup. It didn’t happen since they don’t play in Europe – with the exception of team’s top scorer Sunil Chhetri who plays in Major League Soccer and keeper Subrata Paul, who was a loveable loser (well he had to pick ball from the net ten times, did he?). Keep trying AFC…keep trying in making the Indians to love football. Well China isn’t very far away in this respect…

Iran – B: Still the game. They scored perfect points in the group stage, against defending champions Iraq and pesky NK.  They booked quarter finals match against Korea, a tradition of the Asian Cup. Despite the country rep, yeah, they might have the best looking players, even compared to the rugged Australians. Well that what happened when the groomed Immortals faced the unwashed Macedonian phalanx.

Iraq – B: Yeah, Thailand-Indonesia 2007 was a one hit wonder. Still, better things could have happened. For 115 minutes they scared the Aussies, who they defeated in the previous cup. Their attack and discipline, however, was not as they used to.

North Korea – F: You guys shame Koreans. Jong Tese played in 2. Bundesliga for a reason…this South Africa surprise pack failed to score just any goal against UAE. Some suspects the pains from the torture and mines are still there. Some worse people even thought that the players were look-alikes since the real players were already executed. No, I never tired of the gulag joke. It’s a form of futile protest.

UAE – F: The wooden spoon. Even Indians know how to put in the ball. Time to seize their platinum iPad and OptiShot golf set.

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Asian Cup and SE Asian Cup

Seems I’ve missed two trains – the AFF Suzuki Cup playoffs and finals, and the AFC Asian Cup group stage. Luckily, redemption waits. Tonight Japanese supporters felt big relief and even some pride as Japan came back from two upsets to beat hosts Qatar 3-2 before the Extra Time. They are, also, mad with the referee who red carded defender Yoshida, (correctly) deemed Qatar’s first goal was onside, and prolonged the second injury time. As it happened, the referee is Malaysian, Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh.

Indonesians still have strong opinion for Malaysia. Although I wanted to steer clear from this supposed silliness, I could not. Yes, 3 quick goals against Indonesia in Kuala Lumpur was caused by Indonesia’s own ineptitude, and Indonesia’s frustration in losing to Malaysia on aggregate was more driven by the loss of self-made dream caused by over-exposition by Indonesian press and politicians to its maturing team.

But, even as it’s unfair to say this, it’s still hard for me personally to associate Malaysian football with integrity. Yes, of course Malaysian players and coach Rajagobal are decent people, and the Football Association is still a public enemy in Indonesia, even its chair Nurdin Halid won Guardian Football’s  “Most Corrupted President of the Year” – nobody in the world is worst than him, except perhaps the homophobic Croatian FA president. But during the online debates on the laser incident in Kuala Lumpur (which also recurred earlier in QF against Vietnam), Malaysian supporters offered no coherent arguments other than “well you did it first in Jakarta!”‘ or “Indonesia should not complain too much – we are brothers and you are supposed to be happy that Malaysian football does well.” (what? Nobody thought of simple “sore losers!” ?)

So when the referee for Japan-Qatar match is from Malaysia, and Japanese supporters screamed injustice, well, I associated his performance with his nationality. Actually it made sense – Qatar is not just the host but also strives hard to prove its worthiness as World Cup host (failed). Then, let’s face it, Muslim Malaysians would have softer spot for Qatar. My love for Asian football has to do with East Asian pride and quest for identity.

Whatever the reason – because when you talk about amateur refereeing, Europeans are not happy with their refs as well – both the Asian Cup and AFF Cup shows that Southeast Asian standards are still very much low. My pet gripe is the ridiculous home-away format of the finals. It prolonged the eight nations into a month as if it is the World Cup with so much wasted money and energy. It completely null the thrill of a tournament – giving all you’ve got before the home crowd or in foreign soil, with limited resting time and the risks of injuries, suspension, and bad luck. Although it’s never the intention of the AFF, by the time of Semi Finals the cup has become a farce in Indonesia. The president made the team his trophy, under the delusion that ‘Mandela did it too in Invictus‘. The press hovered on half-European Irfan Bachdim and scores of Filipino players, who flaunted their choleric emotion on field, a by-product of survival in American and European pitches. It was ended by the picture of the young Filipino manager with an Indonesian version of Kardashian sister – which also ended his job. By the time of the home-and-away finals, it has become so ridiculous. Thank God no SE Asian team qualified for the Asian Cup. By the team they reached Qatar, they would have been out of breath.

The Asian Cup’s foremost sin is the qualification of India and North Korea through the Challenge Cup. I don’t see other reason of this path rather than forcing India to get in, thus hoping that Indians will finally watch football. That said, I worried that India could become the surprise package like NZ did in South Africa and Philippines did in Vietnam. The surprise never came because unlike the two, the Indians played in local leagues, not in UK or US. Still, goalkeeper Subrata Paul became a cult hero for Asian football geeks for letting less than he could have conceded, especially in thwarting Korea’s quest to overtake Australia’s goal margin.

Saudi Arabia and North Korea exited in shambles – even with little resistance. Saudi has nurtured its five years disease of hampering its domestic players’ development – extreme version of what’s happening in England. After its loss in first game (which also happened to Spain in South Africa), in monarch fashion the coach was sacked (100 years ago perhaps he was literally beheaded), and it went downhill from there. Hopefully the Saudi FA sees the irony of putting two clubs in the Champions League Semis. As for North Korea, well, Chong Tae-Se is not good enough – or they are still sore from last year’s torture.

Next: Japan, Korea, and Australia. Providing the last two qualify to Semi Finals.