A sad day for North Korean football. The post is actually about Qatar.

North Korean footballer An Young Hak

Don't cry. That thing did nothing good for you (can't find his photo wearing Kashiwa jersey :().

Of course they will be sad. From their childhood they have been taught that that beer-belly freak is the Juche equivalent of God. Perhaps even in the North Korean schools in Japan. Its (Yes, I doubt that it’s a male human) death could mean that the unofficial boxing-style world champions title is in jeopardy. No way Tajikistan would defeat North Korea next February and God knows when NK will have its next friendly match against what. On the other hand, South Korea’s preparation for that deciding home match against Kuwait could be hindered by security concern. Could Dzenan Radoncic be the player-manager for the Taegeuk Warriors?

That news comes as a little relief after the passing of great playwright, humanitarian, and president Vaclav Havel. And after another East Asian team’s inability to unlock Al-Sadd’s defense. Tanaka, Kitajima, and Jorge Wagner played very well, but my fears were realized – like Jeonbuk, Kashiwa might have relied too much on its Brazilian playmaker. Second, Nelsinho’s….unconventional substitution policy (kinda like Zico’s actually) could not sustain Kashiwa’s campaign. I’m truly hoping that he could be wiser for next year’s Champions League, or Kashiwa would be eliminated from the group stage, or from Round of 16 at the best. Masakatsu Sawa is not the best attacking midfielder or winger out there. I still don’t understand why both Park Dong-Hyuk and An Yong-Hak were not played at all. I hope the best explanation is that they were injured.

How on Earth did Al-Sadd gain its third victory against an East Asian champions who were playing in front of their crowds? First, Al-Sadd are a good team, despite a bad season in the Stars League (only 4 wins out of 8 games). If they are not that good Jeonbuk , Suwon, Kashiwa, and ES Tunis would have no hard time against them. Second, I wonder if various elements in Al-Sadd, especially its defense squad, perform better against East Asian sides. Lee Jung-Soo seems to be highly motivated to stop his Korean rivals, the bloody Japanese, and even with Algerian bad boy Belhadj he had no qualm to break David Villa’s foot, something he might not able to do if he’s playing for Korea. Goalkeeper Saqr proves that he’s a howler for Barcelona but is a stonewall for East Asian teams, whose offenders gives him too much respect.

Al-Sadd is a good news for Qatar Football Association, which will continue its campaign for Brazil 14 (come on, they will lose to Iran but no way the Shiites-less Bahrain could own the Indonesia’s Reserve squad*). In a way they are Qatar’s middle finger to Japan and Australia who question the 2022 hosting rights. Will they last long in the 2012 ACL season?

….no, they will not play at all. They ranked 6th in 2011 Stars League. Maybe they can be called the Liverpool of Asia. Even Niang and Ibrahim can’t score for #### in the League.

Jesus, now I’m starting to get more worried about how Kashiwa and Jeonbuk will go next year.

*Indonesian national team are now barred from players who playing for Indonesian Super League. The regular internationals.

 

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AFC: Still the third best confederation in the world

Once more AFC puts its representative in the top four of the FIFA Club World Cup. Again Asian clubs prove that they are better than the champions of Africa and North America. Of Central America, North America, and the Caribbean. Of anything north of Colombia, except Suriname, Guyana, and French Guyana since they don’t speak Spanish/Portuguese and they’re crap at futbol.

I missed the Al-Sadd game and I felt like the crime lord who left the hero to be executed by his minions (sorry, it’s James Bond month in HBO Asia). Still, the feeling that Al-Sadd is an Asian club after all prevails. Especially after Kashiwa won. Especially after I knew that Lee Jung-Soo put in another great defense, more than he demonstrated when playing for Korea (or perhaps that it’s true that he’s Korean best defender, even better than Chabot). You want a Korea to play in Club World Cup Semi, you got it. Especially since Kashiwa are still not playing Park Dong-Hyuk. Even after Kondo got his nose bleeding.

It was just great joy to see Kashiwa prevailed against a team which owned the whole MLS clubs and also other Mexican clubs. Japan showed that again it’s comfortable with penalty shootouts (cue to 3-5 loss to Paraguay in 2010) , even as Junya Tanaka failed to become the finisher – just like Takahara did in the shootout against Australia in Asian Cup 2007 (not both men’s faults, mind you). Yet the Indonesian commentators seemed to displease, and I could imagine that similar things happened in other places.

Even with AFC great records, it’s still the same stories – African and CONCACAF players prevail over Asian players in popularity. Well, it’s a fact that Drogba, Hernandez (Chicarito! Mexico didn’t have a star forward in Europe before him and after Sanchez!), Eto’o, Yorke and Dempsey have scored more goals in European leagues than Honda, Kagawa (yes, please bear for a moment), Park Ji-Sung, and Nakamura. Even if Ji-Sung and Kagawa had actually scored more goals than half of American and African players in Europe, they were still beyond the stardom.

Kashiwa's Goalkeeper

This man deserves a place in Samurai Blue

Social networks are abuzz with proud fans of de Rosario, de Guzman, Charlie Davies, UNAM, and Brek Shea than proud fans of Honda, Gamba Osaka, and Kawashima. When joining the Guardian Football Fans Network last year, I was smiling while several African students in England were despairing about their teams. That before I went to desperation that my co-Korean fans are Englishmen living in Seoul and all the Japanese fans are Englishmen living in Japan. Until today I’m yet to discuss Asian football with an Asian.

That, after AFC demonstrates that it could nurture successful clubs and that Japanese, Korean, and now Qatari clubs are only behind the almighty UEFA and CONME…South American clubs. I’ve seen the virtue of Kashiwa winning the J. League – they have only two Brazilians playing, don’t overtly relying on them like many other clubs worldwide do, and that they have Japanese players waiting for Zaccheroni to call them. I am so worried, anyway, with Nelsinho’s decision to use only one substitution for 120 minutes. I still have the feeling that he doesn’t really trust a second line that includes Kitajima and Ahn rather than reserving them for Wednesday. Kashiwa can throw away the match against Santos, but this time they must strive to beat Al-Sadd in the 3rd Place Match. For the sake of Japan 2022.

 

 

2012 ACL: Still no sunshine for SE Asian football

Indonesia will not again participate in 2012 AFC Champions League. Right, so I have to make some explanation first. Long time ago, say in December 2010, a President called Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono knew a movie called Invictus. He envisaged himself as Nelson Mandela and the Indonesian national football team as the Springboks. Unfortunately, AFF dragged in the tournament into a month that strained away press interest and the teams’ morale. Indonesia failed to win the cup while underdog Malaysia proved that it full-local player league policy worked.

In 2011, Nurdin Halid, the former chief of Indonesia FA became the most hated man among Indonesian men. A power struggle brought in the fear that Indonesia could be banned by FIFA from 2014 World Cup qualifications. Fortunately, FIFA had the same power struggle, and the men who toppled Nurdin, led by businessman Arifin Panigoro and General George Toisutta, got friendly with Sepp’s men in AFC, so Indonesia could play on.

Panigoro created a rival league to IFA-sanctioned league ISL, called IPL. Because he set the English Premier League as his standard. Nobody really watched it. Then this semester, after long long delays involving fickle Indonesians’ dissatisfaction with its national team (hey, they were up against Bahrain and Iran. What did you expect?) and its overblown pride to the U-23 team (which poised to win gold in Southeast Asian Games), IPL has become the official league. Involving 24 teams. Most of these teams balked at the prospect of traveling 23 times over the vast archipelago, and that’s only for the league. Not to the mention the profit sharing and because many new teams included into the league were newbies favored enough by the new management. And some clubs’ managements were also taken over by the Panigoro-Toisutta’s men.

So 18 teams competed in the ISL, while 13 stayed in the IPL. Yeah, the math seems weird, because many clubs broke themselves up into two sides with their own outfits. So far, fans choose the ISL again.

 

That’s the domestic story. 2010 Indonesian champions Persipura compete in the ISL, which is not officially sanctioned. So they are disqualified from 2012 ACL. So do IFA’s proposed replacements – Arema and Persija (both clubs are also in the state of civil war) are turned down by AFC. So only Thailand will represent Southeast Asia (is Australia technically a Southeast Asian nation in the AFC, anyway?). Ho hum.

I know, football wise, Southeast Asians are easy fodders for Japanese and Korean clubs (and um, yeah, still beatable for Chinese and Australian clubs). But Southeast Asia often misses out on the ACL due to non-football factors. Lack of interest from the FA (i.e. Singapore). Mismanagement (esp. Indonesia and Thailand). Lack of professionalism (think Malaysia and Philippines). Corruption (Vietnam and Indonesia). So again, I urge, with a sobering thought for myself, for Southeast Asian football fans to halt their World Cup dream. Because they still can’t prevail in Asian Cup. Because their football associations and governments don’t want to take football seriously.

Anyway, if you are like me and wishing to know if Singapore are really better than Hong Kong although there’s  FIFA World Cup 2010, there’s still AFC Cup around. Featuring Tampines Rovers (Duric), Kitchee (four Spaniards), Citizen (Amaury, not Amauri), Home United (Shi Jiayi), Navibank (Phan Van TE) & SLNA (they have three Jamaicans), Arema (the IPL faction, with Noh Alam Shah), and for the first time, Malaysian sides – Terengganu & Kelantan. O yeah, and a couple of Burmese.

 

J. League & K-League are over. What’s else to watch?

Dad's happy he bought that bargain Hitachi LCD over the more expensive Viera.

JAPAN

Okay, Kashiwa get the title they deserve. Kashiwa teach us that lemon yellow (well, it’s ain’t as cool as Brazil’s canary yellow) deserves some respect besides the boring blue and red. Even the boring orange. The good news is Urawa, still the most watched team in Japan, survive the year (apparently I did some horrific miscalculation last week) despite Nobuhiro Kato’s terrible terrible mishaps. I wouldn’t be surprised if yesterday morning he had to carry around the execs’ golf kits on his shoulders and back. Certainly this has been a bad year for both Tatsuya Tanaka and Genki Haraguchi.

Can Kashiwa outdo Auckland City? Yes they can, all despite Auckland’s Spanish quartet. What about Monterrey? That’s when the test comes from. That’s when we would see if Sakai, Dong-Hyuk, Kitajima, Junya, and even Young-Hak (*I* consider him to be a Japanese) are really better than Kennedy, Tamada, Keun-Ho, and Endo. If they can bet Monterrey, they can go a long way in 2012 ACL.

The Emperor’s Cup is still on the roll this month. Sadly it’s not covered by my satellite network that covers J.League (thanks!) so I can only follow the news online and from Singaporean wrap-up programs. Nagoya v Kashiwa is certainly the one to watch (bit harsh for Kashiwa just week after their campaign to represent Japan, eh?), there are still Corinthians around like Matsumoto Yamaga, and personally I want to see Masashi Oguro & Shunsuke Nakamura playing in the ACL for once.

KOREA

Jeonbuk’s Eninho & Luiz Henrique’s performances against Al-Sadd have certainly made the Club World Cup less exciting that it should be. Yes, I’m still blaming them. Especially after seeing how excellent was Eninho performing during the finals of the Championship against the lesser Hyundai. And remembering how bad did Luiz play during the ACL final rounds. Ulsan have been impressive and it’s worth a wait to see how Seol Ki-Hyeon, Lee Ho, Kang Min-Soo, and Kwak Tae-Hwi (which have been a true tiger during  the play-offs) fare next year.

 

The next things to watch without J. League and K-League (and even S-League. And even more CSL) are certainly the A-League, the two Indonesian leagues, and of course Asian players in Europe. The latter is an agony lately. Park Ji-Sung played full-time in Manchester United’s unexpected, unplanned loss to Crystal Palace (my friend never heard of it and she thought it sounds like a Chinese restaurant); Ji Dong-Won, Ko Ja-Cheol, and Son Heung-Min played from the start and were subbed out halfway, Makoto Hasebe was red-carded, Park Chu-Young and  Takashi Usami weren’t even on the bench throughout the week, and Shinji Kagawa didn’t score again. (My god, that litany took four lines to write).

Again, is it genetics? Physical skills? Mentality? Or is it easier to spot a non-performing Asian than a non-performing Argentine, Swede, or Nigerian? Or in the end they actually played well but it was me who got too obsessed with my quest for Asian Goalscoring Superstar Hero so I spend Mondays worrying that they wouldn’t start the game next weekend? Like what’s happening to Park Chu-Young?