A Parochial Guide to 2015 AFC Champions League and AFC Cup

A good example of how parochial the English media can be is by referencing the Prime Minister of Denmark as “The wife of Labour candidate for Aberavon” or “Wife of (Neil) Kinnock’s son“. This blog will also get parochial and view the Asian version of UEFA Champions League and Europa League (hmm…there’s simply no classical Asian word for “Asia”, is it?) from Japanese, Korean, and Australian perspectives. Specifically if those West Asian teams have Korean players in them, otherwise I will just ignore them. Begin with the Champions League.

Ask me about Riga’s best lounges.

Group A

Hot hot hot. Al Nassr, Lekwhiya, Persepolis, Bunyodkor. Only Al Nassr, however, have won a continental cup in 1998 (Cup Winners’ Cup) and played in FIFA Club World Cup. It has no one interesting, unlike Lekhwiya, whose no 10 is Nam Tae-hee and whose coach, Michael Laudrup, is browsing London and Tokyo city guides (great life, Mike). Persepolis predictably have only Latinos, but what about Bunyodkor? Their number 9 is Minori Sato, a journeyman who had lived in United States, Mexico, Latvia, and Belarus! And Keisuke Honda complained about how pampered Japanese footballers are.

Group B

Hmm…Pakhtakor, Al Shabab, Al Ain, and Naft Tehran. Just Al Ain with Lee Myung-joo, then (those clever Korean attacking midfielders! Choose to play in the Gulf when you want to get out of Korea, paid well, and not benched!)

Group C

Foolad, Lokomotiv, Al Hilal, and Al Sadd. Al Hilal have Kwak Tae-hwi while Al Sadd have Lee Jung-soo. Interesting though, that Al Hilal’s new forward is Georgios Samaras, on loan from West Brom.

Group D

Al Ahli Dubai, Tractor, Nasaf, Al Ahli Jeddah. Nice, two clubs with the same name will face each other. Dubai’s winger is Luis Jimenez, who played for Internazionale and West Ham and is listed as a Palestinian (since Dubai want to show that they are Asian-friendly and therefore can buy another Latino, and yay, Jimenez has Palestinian background). Meanwhile, their attacking midfielder is Oussama Assaidi, who played four matches with Liverpool. If AFC rejects Jimenez’ Asian status, then there’s ex-Jeonbuk midfielder Kwon Kyung-won.

Group E

East side – home to deserted stadiums, mediocre Japanese performance, interesting Chinese and Thai performances, and Australian away supporters who are proved to be more interested in local culture than other Asians are. Jeonbuk have familiar faces like Eninho, Alex Wilkinson, and Lee Dong-gook. Shandong have Diego Tardelli, who believed he should have been called for Brazil in World Cup 2014 (aren’t you glad now, Diego?). Vietnam again proves it’s the second best footballing nation in Southeast Asia with Becamex Binh Duo. Finally, there’s Kashiwa who wasted 2 hours last week to dispatch Chonburi. They are, though, still the best J. League team in the ACL for the past two years.

Group F

Gamba’s back, now with forward Shingo Akamine. They are with Seongnam FC (now Moonies-free), Buriram United, and Guangzhou R&F. Buriram’s New Zealander’s forward, Kayne Vincent, is half-Japanese. They also have Go Seul-ki, who lifted the 2012 ACL cup with Ulsan. Guangzhou R&F sport Park “Dokdo is Ours” Jong-woo and Jang Hyun-soo, who ironically played with FC Tokyo during the London Olympics.

Group G

Brisbane Roar have the usual names of Michael Theo, Henrique, Matt McKay, and Thomas Broich. Urawa maintain their all-Japanese look, with the exception of Slovenian forward Zlatan Ljubijankic. Same goes with Suwon Bluewings with Jung Sung-ryong, Oh Jang-eun, Jong Tae-se, and a trio of Brazilians. Beijing have no selling names but have a Swede with interesting name: Erton Fejzullahu (he’s Albanian Kosovar, like Adnan Januzaj).

Group H

G.E.T. Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, presented by Evergrande Real Estate Group and Alibaba Group. Kim Young-gwon is still there, and so are Elkeson and Rene Junior. Their new Brazilian is Ricardo Goulart, bought for 15 million euros from Cruzeiro. Western Sydney can expect another sleepless night in Guangzhou, and extra love for their two Japanese, Yusuke Tanaka and Yojiro Takahagi. At least they can see Tokyo again, well, its mirage, from the deer island of Kashima. The Antlers are same as always, with Masashi Motoyama, Koji Nakata, Davi, and Mitsuo Ogasawara. It’s like 2005 all over again. Finally: FC Seoul. Same – Kim Yong-dae, Kim Jin-kyu, Mauricio Molina, and Cha Du-ri. I hope Japanese Sergio Escudero stays with Seoul, although its fans prefer to take him as a Spaniard.

So yeah, ready for another disappointments and relief? Now move on to the cheaper brand of AFC Cup, which is more interesting for Southeast Asians and Hong Kongers.

Group A-D

Nothing’s important. Ignore the rumor that porn star Akari Asahina is the manager of Al Wahda Damascus. Certainly one of these West Asian clubs will lift the trophy again, like from Bahrain or Kuwait or Iraq.

Group E

Bengaluru have India’s darling Sunil Chhetri, Josh Walker, whose virtual version was available from FIFA 08 (Bournemouth) to FIFA 13 (Scunthorpe United), and Wayne Rooney’s long-lost brother Sean. Persipura retain many Papuan football stars like Boaz Solossa and Ian Louis Kabes. Warriors prove the sorry state of Singaporean football by only having 20 players, including four foreigners and two naturalized Singaporeans. Yes, what a football crazy nation. Maziya from Maldives surprisingly have a Spanish, Bulgarian, and Japanese (why surprising? No man would refuse working on a resort island where there are places where the sharia doesn’t apply for them).

Group F

Kitchee: five Spanish, two Brazilians, a Nigerian, two Koreans, a Canadian, and four naturalized Hong Kongers who grew up in Ghana and China. Nice. Besides two Nigerians, East Bengal have Australian Milan Susak, who played in Serbia, Germany, Indonesia, China, Iran, and UAE. Now this is one Mr. International. And also New Zealander Leo Bertos, who played in NZ’s three draws at 2010 FIFA World Cup. Like Kashima, Johor maintain the spirit of 2005 by playing Luciano Figueroa, Argentina’s hero of Copa America 2004 and FIFA Confederations Cup 2005. Sadder than Warriors, Balestier only have 19 players.

Group G

Yadanarbon win the Club with Interesting Players’ Names award, thanks to Okpechi Happiness, Boakay Foday, and Djedje Djawa (who should have played in Java). South China prove that globalization happens with Hong Kongers Jack Sealy and Michael Campion and Irish Sean Tse. And also Daniel McBreen, 2012-13 A-League golden boot winner. Global become the first Filipino team in the championship, and you can get Japanese overload with names like Daisuke Sato, Hikaru Minegishi, and John Kanayama. And there are two actual Japanese players besides those locals. Finally, Pahang make dream comes true for Pakistani and Jamaican football fans dreaming of seeing their nationalities represented in the world-famous AFC Cup.

Group H

My hometown team, Persib Bandung, are here. Sadly nothing is really interesting from this group (group of bore? Lucky you, Persib), besides the fact that Lao Toyota’s Japanese midfielder Dan Ito has played in 16 Asian countries over the last 15 years.

Milan Susak: Friend with Dan Ito on Flickr?

What, you want group prediction? I’m too afraid to make one. It’d be so funny though if GET don’t get the first place.

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AFC Asian Cup 2015. Heh.

The magic of AFC Asian Cup.

Okay, I should be cheered up better. It’s an all East final. Featuring both of my favorites.

It’s all your fault, Japan.

But, had Japan was in the final, the mood be sourer than on Sunday. Korea v Japan would have been a nasty stuff. Japan v Australia in the semis, as interesting and ideal it was, would have been too much for many people on both sides of the Pacific.

Instead, in peaceful Australia it was an all-peaceful tournament. No Korea v Iran. Thank you Iraq. No Japan v China. On second thought, that would have been impossible.

The causes of Japanese terrible performance are clear. Stupid Aguirre put the same 11 throughout group stage – I won’t even do that on World Cup 2014 (yes, we couldn’t reenact the tournament on Pro Evolution Soccer 2015). Okazaki and Honda were too exhausted, too nice (the former), too nervous (the latter). Korea were lucky Lee Jung-hyup and Cho Young-choul were able forwards (and unlike Javier Aguirre, Uli Stielike was wise enough to deploy them), and the ranked-100th Australia employed their full potential at the right time, just like in movies.

UAE have the chance to be a hipster’s team now. Maybe less in Australia, after it’s revealed that Gulf nations want to expel Australia from the AFC since uh, it’s the new guys who went to the World Cups instead of them. I thought the biggest Australian haters in AFC would be something like China or Malaysia. Australia might secretly want a nasty rivalry, but it won’t be with Japan – it’d be with Saudi Arabia (the spitting incident), Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

Having said that, be assured that Asian football hipsters will look for UAE merchandises, and also free stuff related to Omar Abdulrahman. Wonderful, JFA, now UAE Pro League has better chance to be featured on FIFA than J. League Division 1 (not that you care).

What’s now? Massimo Luongo, Mat Ryan, and Trent Sainsbury will stay with Swindon, Club Brugge, and Zwolle. But they’d certainly play in a better club next season, just as Kawashima and Kagawa’s positions in Standard Liege and Borussia Dortmund are questionable. It’s a trickier prospect for the Emirates: clubs would have less confidence on them than on new names from Korea and Japan, but the bigger question is, would Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout like to start on mid table clubs in non-English speaking countries? Or in the Championship, like Ali al Habsi?

Finally, with Jason Davidson (quarter-Japanese) and Massimo Luongo (half-Indonesian), let it be said that Australia is an Asian nation in football, and Asian-Australians can make it in Australian sports.

Have a cheerful Valentine’s Day (I’m invited into a wedding. Yippie) and Lunar New Year. On March we’ll have brand new Asian football spectacles, such as India facing Pakistan and Taiwan taking Macau on the first step to Russia 2018.

Heck, even this week we are already in Champions League mood.

AFC Asian Cup 2015 Team of the Tournament

Goalkeeper: Mat Ryan (Australia, Club Brugge)

Defenders: Dhurgam Ismail (Iraq, Al Shorta), Kwak Tae-hwi (Korea, Al Hilal), Trent Sainsbury (Australia, FC Zwolle), Cha Du-ri (Korea, Seoul)

Midfielders: Massimo Luongo (Australia, Swindon Town), Omar Abdulrahman (UAE, Al Ain), Ki Seung-yung (Korea, Swansea)

Forwards: Ali Mabkhout (UAE, Al Jazira), Tim Cahill (Australia, New York Red Bulls), Son Heung-min (Korea, Bayer Leverkusen)

 

What’s on this February

AFC Champions League

4 February: Yadanarbon (Myanmar) v Warriors (Singapore), Johor Darul Tazim (Malaysia) v Bengaluru (India)

10 February: Ha Noi T&T (Vietnam) v Persib Bandung (Indonesia), Chonburi (Thailand) v Kitchee (Hong Kong), Guangzhou R&F (China) v Yadanarbon/Warriors, Bangkok Glass (Thailand) v JDT/Bengaluru

17 February: FC Seoul (Korea) v Ha Noi/Persib, Kashiwa (Japan) v Chonburi/Kitchee, Central Coast Mariners (Australia) v Guangzhou (surely), Beijing Gouan (China) v Bangkok Glass (likely)

24-25 February: Group stage already! Hectic, isn’t it

2015 AFC Asian Cup. Yay.

Nasser Al Shamrani ponders where he will go out tonight in Melbourne.

Happy New Year, Maya Yoshida. That’s a sweet victory against Arsenal, wasn’t it? You did good job in blocking Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (a hipster favorite), and Theo Walcott for 20 minutes. You’re good to go for Australia 2015.

Asians are so diligent and hardworking, we are doing a major tournament in the first working week of 2015. Making the good use of southern hemisphere summer.

And so let’s see the teams that will compete in Asian Cup 2015.

Australia

When they won the hosting rights in 2011 (without competition), it was too easy. Only Japan could spoil their party. Four years later, everyone could tear down the house. Australia had experienced defeats by Qatar, China, Japan (in 90 minutes in 2013, breaking a 12 years record), and Jordan. They were held by Oman, North Korea, South Africa, and UAE.

As I said, while Australians tell each other that they are on transition, the world does not care. Asia enjoys the agony. [Update: Australia have stopped saying that they are on transition.]

Tim Cahill, still the most reliable goal scorer for the last ten years, survived against pretenders like John Aloisi, Scott McDonald, Brett Holman, and Joshua Kennedy. Now Australia badly need new goalscorers. Thankfully Nathan Burns is on good form, Tomi Juric is at the crossroad (his last goal came in November), while Mat Leckie is doing fine with Ingolstadt, currently topping the 2. Bundesliga.

Australians and me hope that they could be like Germany in 2006 – turning shameful slumps into a glorious, proud summer (the semi final match could be held on Australia Day). Therefore the only permissible way to begin is to win comfortably against Kuwait. If everything goes well (Korea are a major stumbling block), then it’s quarter final against China in Melbourne. That’s dream comes true for broadcasters and organizers, but expect plenty of venom coming from Chinese commentators (since Australians are, uh, Western white men). The other option is no more friendly – Spiranovic vs Al Shamrani II.

Going to semis? Iran. The ideal final, of course, pitches Australia and Japan.

Goalkeeper: Ryan

Defenders: Franjic, Sainsbury, Spiranovic, Davidson

Midfielders: Jedinak, Bresciano, McKay

Forwards: Kruse, Cahill (false 9), Oar/Leckie

Korea

Supposedly, they have put the disaster of 2013-14 behind with the leadership of Uli Stielike, the only German international to fail a penalty shootout. Their recent records are still mixed, however – wins against Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Paraguay, losses to Iran (a bloody one), Costa Rica, and Uruguay. Like Australia, they were on transition but Koreans hardly said that (at least in English).

The match against Australia is the biggest challenge, and I would say it will end in a draw, just like in 2011. A quarter final against North Korea is unlikely (some South Koreans actually fancy the idea), while Korean “netizens” hope for China so they can update Eul-Yong Ta for 2010s.

The semi final will be another heated affair whether as runner ups or group winners – either Iran or Japan. Heck, even in the final they will face either Iran or Japan and things can go nasty. Boy, Koreans do have plenty of issues, don’t they?

Goalkeeper: Kim Seung-gyu

Defenders: Kim Chang-soo, Kwak, Kim Young-gwon, Park Joo-ho

Midfielders: Lee Chung-yong, Ki, Koo

Forwards: Cho Yeung-chol, Lee Keun-ho, Son

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan. Our football team is more famous than Kazakhstan’s. We have Natasha Alam and you Kazakhstan have…you have that volleyball cutie.

No, she won’t care about Asian Cup. Maybe neither is Natasha Alam.

Remember Road to Japan and Korea? A pretty surreal qualification since Japan and Korea were not in and Australia were still in OFC. So if you remove these three nations, the final round of AFC qualification would be full of creepy countries ruled by mad dictators. Group B is a terrible put down. I blame the desert and the northern latitudes. And Stalin.

Uzbekistan feature the balanced lineups of players based in Uzbekistan (always a challenge in AFC Champions League, although not big spenders like Bunyodkor used to be). The spread of its foreign-based players is also interesting. Vitaly Denisov and Lutfulla Turaev play for Lokomotiv (spelling it “Locomotive” makes it sounds less communist) Moscow, Anzur Ismailov is with Changchun Yatai, Bahodir Nasimov plays in Iran, and captain Server Djeparov still can eat Seongnam’s best bulgogi. Not to mention those who play in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

So there’s no reason they cannot ace Group B, above Saudi Arabia and China. A quarter final against Korea will be a friendly derby, and so does semi final against Japan. For a mad dictatorship, it’s surprising that they have no personal problem with anyone.

Saudi Arabia

The ballad of Nasser Al Shamrani. Australians heckled him mercilessly in Melbourne when Saudi Arabia were humiliated 1-4 by Bahrain and in Parramatta, home of Western Sydney Wanderers. They will hunt him again in Brisbane and Melbourne. It’s still unknown if Arab-Australians will stand up for him, especially (or despite) after Al Hilal players described Sydney as the boonies.

China

Thank God you’re here, said the organizer. Otherwise Asian Cup will be devoid of the most important of all East Asians. Will Chinese-Australians care about China? Maybe they hardly care about any sport in the first place. But the Chinese students will persuade their Southeast Asian (and some Australian) friends to support China.

China did plenty of friendlies in preparation of the cup, but none of them was outside China. Why bother going to savage lands where you can invites barbarians such as Kyrgyzs (twice), Palestines, and New Zealanders to enjoy a bit of Chinese hospitality in the world-famous cities of Nanchang, Chenzhou, Shenzhen (Hong Kong’s ugly sister!), and Changsa?

Half-assed friendlies in faraway cities to tire out the visitors, local-based players since no Chinese footballer is good enough to play in Europe (and why bother playing in tiny Mainz where you can enjoy Guangzhou’s nightlife), and equally strong opponents. They won’t make it past the group stage.

North Korea

Scums of the Earth and a total waste of space. But wait, even the Hermit Kingdom has players based in Europe and Japan! Wunderbar! Ryang Yong-gi and Ri Yong-jik are Korean-Japanese who swear allegiance to North Korea. Now the nice Switzerland opens its door to the misunderstood North Koreans, from Kim Jong-un to Cha Jong-hyok and Pak Kwang-ryong, who is loaned by Basel to Vaduz. Hey, Liechtenstein is just like North Korea – the people are smiling, the mountains are beautiful, and the underground vault is shining.

Iran

Look at the champions. Asia’s best. Lack of playing time but they make the best of it, whether against Korea or Iraq. Like in 1997, they can expect full support from Iranian Australians. Their European players are so-so: Keeper Alireza Haghighi keeps picking balls from inside his net with Penafiel in Portugal, Javad Nekounam still proves his worth with four goals with Osasuna, while his team mate Karim Ansarifad is yet to score. But as a team, they can be invincible. Iranians will gleefully see the Princes of Persia slash down those pesky Arabs (they are conveniently group with Qatar, Bahrain, and UAE, who insist that it’s called Arabian Gulf).

Japan

The samurais care less that their daimyo is accused of match fixing back in 2010 – they have a cup to defend. Traditionally Japanese fans will sit on the fence – Aguirre is another foreigner whose main purpose is to lead Nippon. If he won’t resign over the allegation, he will resign over bad results. But he won’t stay forever.

Japanese footballers, the mainstay of Asian football in Europe, are again in dire need of redemption. Shinji Kagawa must be cannot believe his terrible luck, worse than his Manchester United days. Keisuke Honda could not sustain his goal scoring streaks and now Milanistas are singing for Jeremy Menez instead of him. 2015 has arrived and Eiji Kawashima is still thinking about next season – stay or leave? – as he’s sitting on Liege’s bench. His challenger, Shusaku Nishikawa, rue the days he slipped the J. League trophy – and the chance to be Japan’s number 1 – past his hands.

For some others, this is the moment of truth. Yasuhito Endo can’t believe his fairy tale story. At 34 going 35, he resurrected a disgraced team to win a Triple and is still Japan’s best holding midfielder for one and half decade. Without ever playing in Europe. Shinji Okazaki wants to match his club performance with national team performance, especially if he wants to move a bigger (and better paying) club next August. Yoshinori Muto will be thrilled to think which European scouts are watching him.

Japan will face nemeses Jordan and Iraq and have to put up with the crowds and the world who will support Palestine. They will get the job done and will face one of the Gulf nations. Then it’s Uzbekistan, who defeated them twice on the Road to Brazil. Then a final showdown against Australia or less likely, Iran.

Goalkeeper: Kawashima (my choice is as tricky as Aguerre’s. Higashiguchi can handle Palestine but first impression is everything)

Defenders: Sakai, Konno, Yoshida, Nagatomo

Midfielders: Endo, Hasebe, Kiyotake, Kagawa, Honda

Forward: Okazaki

Five Things about J. League 2014

You don’t need Nike or adidas to win the league.

J. League 2014 has wrapped up this month, with Gamba Osaka resurrected from death to ascend to the top. Just like the birthday boy (yea, actually He was born around May and 25th December is actually the birthday of Roman god Invictus Sol). I was going to call J. League the ________ League of Asia but that won’t work. Premier League? Not enough international stars (more on this later). Bundesliga? Might work ten years ago, plus now the best of J. League play in Bundesliga (ten years ago it would have been Serie A), but Bundesliga is now waaay better than Premier League.

Serie A then? Let’s see…famous names who are terrible in Champions League? Yes. A shadow of their 20th century selves? Yes. Corruption and match fixings? No, that would be China. Openly racist and sexist directors? Racist and sexist yes, but not openly. International fans who never abandon them? Yes. Fertile pool for future superstars? That works for Japan but not Italy.

So J. League is not even the Serie A of Asia. Because J. League it’s better, although it’s true that Honda looks more dashing wearing adidas’ Milan shirt than Umbro’s Gamba Osaka shirt (hey, you don’t see him playing for Urawa, do you?) Now he only needs to score several more goals for Milan and everything will be alright.

So, what’s 2014 about for Asia’s most popular league?

1. Like Japan, J. League is getting insular.

Japan’s response to the rise of China and Korea? Retreat to the mountain. The corporate owners of J. League teams don’t like how the world put their brands as an option besides (even behind) their Korean and Chinese competitors. Panasonic, owner of Gamba, experienced a resurgence in the 2000s from Lumix digital cameras, but now non-Japanese smartphones have put pocket cameras out of business, and professional photographers prefer Canon and Nikon (fellow Japanese, thankfully) for the big guns. Hitachi, owner of Kashiwa, has stopped making TV.

As J-pop refuses Western influences in contrast to K-pop and Japanese fanboys cling to the infantile AKB48 (mature-looking Korean girl bands are too scary for them), Japan is also cutting ties with its traditional Korean connection. Sagan Tosu were a serious contender for the championship thanks to coach Yoon Jung-hwan and playmaker Kim Min-woo. Could not bear the idea that a Korean could bring a traditionally minnow team to lift the trophy, the club fired Yoon on August. Tosu ended up not going to Champions League 2015, but the Japanese face of Sagantus is saved. I wonder if chairman Minoru Takehara or the governor of Saga was just aware of the Korean history epic Roaring Currents that summer.

So J. League clubs decreased the number of Koreans (on the other hand, many Koreans looking for international experience seem to prefer Arabian clubs. Plus, J. League teams still prefer Koreans over Australians for their Asian Foreign Player slot) but keep the Brazilians as acceptable foreigners. Sure, there are exceptions from Europe, but no African and Argentine played in 2014 J. League Division 1. Credit though, to Shimizu, who employed a Croatian-Canadian, a Slovenian, and a dark-skinned Chinese-Dutch.

 

2. Big Name Foreigners Cannot Flourish in J. League

J. League was the first Asian leagues to feature European legends – some continued to coaching like Zico, Dragan Stojkovic, and Guido Buchwald. But Japan was out of money by 1997 and never recovered its glamor, and now China and the Gulf have it.

Cerezo Osaka tried a play from Shanghai and Guangzhou clubs and recruited Diego Forlan – best Uruguayan footballer before World Cup 2010 – and Brazilian-German striker Cacau who was also in South Africa 2010. The result? Seventeen losses. Cacau played only eleven matches and scored five goals, while Forlan scored seven goals and a couple in Asia. Still, very disappointing for a man who played in 2014 World Cup. A Manchester United fan who scoffed at him in 2004, saying he’ll only good enough for an Asian league in ten years time, couldn’t get any more accurate than that.

So, why can’t big name foreigners flourish in J. League? First, only one club tried it. Cerezo’s town rivals Gamba won the league using two forwards who were benchwarmers back in Brazil.

Second, the money. If Patric and Lins would be good enough in 2015 AFC Champions League, they will be approached by richer Arabian or Chinese clubs (the Arabs from oil and sovereign funds, the Chinese from property and trade networks) . Thanks to their disastrous responses to the rise of Korea and China (instead of studying what works), Japanese conglomerates are struggling to keep their business afloat, and thus cannot be generous with their football clubs’ budgets. On the other hand, Australians and even English envy Japan’s talent development – at least the academies are working.

 

3. Will J. League Blow Again in 2015 AFC Champions League?

This is like the English and Italian problems. The world sings their clubs’ names. Children on the farthest corners of the world wear club jerseys bearing names like Oscar, Gerrard, Totti, and Vidal. But they have the slim chance of winning the 2015 UEFA Champions League (it’s zero for Liverpool). Worse than Japan, England and Italy have the slimmer chance to win the continental cup.

So why Japan keep on losing in the ACL? Let’s blame it first on distance. Do you know that compared to the distance of St. Petersburg and Madrid, the distance between Hiroshima and Dubai is…aw, forget it. They even could not hold a night in Seoul or Guangzhou, let alone Sydney.

Actually in 2014 Japanese clubs held themselves well in the group stage. Kawasaki were better than Ulsan. Hiroshima prevailed over Beijing. Cerezo defeated not only Buriram but also Shandong. Yokohama were unlucky enough to be grouped with both Jeonbuk and Evergrande. But if they could not handle flight fatigue to Guangzhou and Sydney, how could Korean clubs and Western Sydney prepared themselves for trips across India and the Arabian Sea?

So it went down to money and motivation. I don’t think club owners ordered their teams to throw away the match. But maybe the players and the managers themselves were not that interested with Asian tours. Since the double years of 2007 and 2008, it seems that Japan saw no point of Asian adventures – just like how they treated the competition in 2004. Ironically, once more Japan let the Koreans took the glory – and now even the Australians.

 

4. Do Japanese next best things need J. League?

There is Son Heung-min and there is Ryo Miyaichi. Both skipped local competitions and tried their luck in Europe. Miyaichi is lucky to be listed for the provisional Asian Cup squad, but I don’t blame him if he enjoys the abuses against Arsene Wenger. Son, on the other hand, gets all Cristiano Ronaldo’s perks at least in Korea.

Of course parents of non-European football prodigies worry if Europe will be the nightmare of their sons’ careers. It happened to Takayuki Morimoto and Hiroshi Ibusuki. Sota Hirayama made a career suicide when the sleepiness of Almelo killed him. Now he won’t wear the three-legged crow crest again, but at least he can see the lights of Tokyo every night.

So it’s better to see if you’re good for J. League first, then for the national team. Like Okazaki or Uchida. The miracles of Kagawa and Honda won’t happen to everyone (Honda was practically unheard of outside Japan when he was playing for Nagoya). Then again, we have enough Okubos and Usamis to show that J. League might be the final frontier for the rest. The twist is that the world’s best Asian footballers (or even athletes) play outside the system. That’s why they are specials.

 

5. What will Happen to J. League in 2015?

J. League 2015 will return to the two parts system, Latin American style, topped with Korean or Australian style championship play-offs, in an attempt to draw back spectators and sponsors. British commentators are skeptical and football hipsters mourn the loss of its volatile nature. Maybe that’s what actually the suits want to settle. Maybe they want two Kanto clubs to act like Chelsea and Arsenal and two Kansai clubs (hmm…bit difficult now, eh?) to act like Manchester United and Manchester City. Nagoya can play Liverpool.

How it will effect Japanese football quality remains to be seen. I mean, look at Australia. Where have they gone wrong? To market their clubs well, however, club owners have to market their corporate brands better. I love Panasonic earphones, but of course they are jokes for Beat and Audio Technica wearing students. Pajero drivers are increasingly seen as dicks (female drivers included) in Southeast Asia, and uh, Sumitomo, what are you selling again?

I’m Excited about AFF 2014. Really.

Gee, I wonder where I can get all these Indonesian stuff on any Nike store in Indonesia…because I have checked stores in Jakarta and all they have are Barcelona and Manchester United.

Tonight, Southeast Asian football will look at itself. For the next one month.

The ASEAN Football Federation (ASEAN is Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Championship begins tonight with Philippines vs Laos. Of course, nobody will actually see that, so we move on to the proper opening match featuring co-host Vietnam taking on my country Indonesia. Tomorrow Malaysia will face Myanmar while the real match of the day would be between Singapore and Thailand. All the way to the second leg final on 20 December 2014, five day before Christmas and at the same day with the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup Championship final. So it’s a double treat for the winning nation (I really can’t think of anyone, really). Philippines and then Real Madrid.

That one-month long tournament idea it’s just stupid. I blame Nike. And Suzuki. And Fox Sports Asia. We can have the whole championship wrapped up just in two weeks but this is as long as the World Cup. In 2010, the prolonged tournament was a recipe for disaster for Indonesia. Indonesia did well, then president Susilo B. Yudhoyono watched Invictus and thought of himself as Nelson Mandela (Irfan Bachdim became Matt Damon) and showed up to the playoffs, effectively ruining Indonesia’s morale and integrity.

I apologize, though, for blaming Nike. Even Nike Indonesia does not take this tournament seriously. Yesterday I went to the mall and saw a display of #RiskEverything with Irfan Bachdim and his tattoos (2014 appearance for Ventforet Kofu: 0) but the Nike store had only few away shirts, probably leftover from last season. No polo or jacket or cap. In contrast, from the same mall’s Adidas outlet I have collected Japan’s jersey, t-shirt, jacket, cap, and backpack. All I have to do is wear them all and be like Joey Tribbiani.

This picture has nothing to do with Asian football.

How could the “football crazy” Indonesia cares little about the Red and White? That’s because Nike Indonesia cares little about it. That’s because the football crazy Indonesians care more about Germany, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Juventus (and Japan, in my case). That’s because we don’t think we’d win the championship, even as we are crying war. Then again, maybe so our neighbors.

So I assure you, not just Nike Indonesia (and their customers) cares about the lack of availability of Indonesia merchandises, we also don’t care about the other teams. Enemies. Opponents. Foreigners. Sports tabloids and newspapers can write a little about “players to watch” and predicted lineups, but don’t expect too much from television.

So, I take the responsibility to educate my fellow Indonesians a little about teams that Indonesia will defeat and that will defeat Indonesia, and to give an introduction to the world on Indonesia and other Southeast Asian teams.

Vietnam

Surprisingly, the ones with Japanese touch. Maybe Vietnam have taken its rivalry with China to a new level. Coach Toshiya Miura had experiences with Omiya, Sapporo, and Kobe in the 2000s. Their female supporters can be the most visible and enthusiastic ones, and the host advantage can be with them.

Foreign-based player? No.

The Ace: Le Chong Vinh, number nine. Experienced unsuccessful stints with Leixoes in 2009-10 Primeira Liga (they were the worst team) and Consadole Sapporo in 2013. Did not score in 2012 championship, though.

The Foreigner: Mac Hong Quan. Born in Czech, he was with Sparta Prague B before moving to Vietnam in 2013. Still an underachiever.

Problem Child: Dinh Thanh Trung. Left Hanoi over dispute, he played in Division 2 last season.

Philippines

The perpetual dark horses, Philippines grew from one of the worst teams in the region (and Asia) into a feared one, thanks to half-Filipino players recruited from Europe and United States. They became fine footballers and decided to play in the United Football League and dating models rather than busting their asses in European lower leagues (they still can date models there, right?). If they still can’t reach the final, blame UFL.

O yeah, their coach is Tom Dooley, one of my heroes when I supported United States in early 1990s.

Foreign-based players? Several. Goalkeeper Ronald Muller in Servette, captain Rob Gier in Ascot United, Jerry Lucena in Esbjerg, and Martin Steuble in Sporting Kansas City. Until they will play in UFL and get cozy.

The Ace: Mark Hartmann, who scored 27 goals this season with Global. Might overshadow old favorites like the Younghusband brothers.

The Foreigner: Most of the team, but the peculiar ones would be defender Daisuke Sato and midfielder Misagh Bahadoran.

The Problem Child: Surprisingly nothing, but expect them to argue with the referees and challenge other players with combative gestures.

Indonesia

Indonesia can’t let go of the big country syndrome – since we have so many people and have the biggest area, we have to be the biggest bully of the block, right? I hope new president Joko Widodo can help the team concentrate now and let publicity takes the back seat. Austrian coach Alfred Riedl worked for Vietnam again and again from late 1990s to mid 2000s.

If Indonesia makes a rip-off of Cantabile, he’s very suitable to play Franz Stresemann.

Foreign based player? Sergio van Dijk, once an attraction of A-League, plays for Suphanburi in Thailand.

The Ace: Uruguay-born Cristian Gonzales, consistently one of top scorers in Indonesian Premier League and has good record with Indonesia. At 38, however, he’s getting fatter and fatter.

The Foreigner: Besides those two, there’s the Nigeria-born defender Victor Igbonefo.

Problem Child: Being a stereotypical stern Austrian, Riedl omits Irfan Bachdim and night club regular Diego Michiels from this team. Unfortunately, he also omits IPL 2014 MVP Ferdinand Sinaga, who I believe deserves a forward spot better over van Dijk.

Laos

The Poland/Greece of Southeast Asia – you’ll need to copy and paste their names rather than typing. The lovable losers who survived the qualification run. Coached by English Dave Booth, a veteran of Indian football (and Grimsby Town’s 1973 Player of the Year).

Foreign-based player: Soukaphone Vongchiengkham (pasted) plays for Thai Division 1 club Saraburi.

The Ace: Him, maybe.

The Foreigner: None.

The Problem Child: None as far I know.

Singapore

The defending champions and eternally an annoying shrimp for its larger neighbors, at least in football. They are expected to reach semi finals, at the expense of neighbors and rivals Malaysia. They are now the only team to have an ethnic Chinese footballer.

Foreign-based players: LionsXII, where most of the players work for, compete in Malaysia Super League. Other than that, Hariss Harun plays for Johor and captain Shahril Ishak, 2012 Championship MVP, is in Johor II. Baffling, no?

The Ace: Khairul Amri, on his tenth year with the Lions and scored four goals in the 2012 Championship. This year he’s the top scorer in the Malaysia Super League who is not a Brazilian or Argentine.

The Foreigner: For the last ten years, Singapore had been powered by naturalized players from England, Nigeria, China, and former Yugoslavia. Not anymore. Gabriel Quak, on the other hand, becomes the first Singapore-born ethnic Chinese who’s good enough for the national team since Goh Tat Chuan played in early 2000s. Ironically, in Chinese-majority Singapore, his name and feature are unique for Singaporean football. Maybe just like Hugo Lloris in France.

The Problem Child: Khairul Nizam, brother to Khairul Amri, served eight matches ban in 2010 for brawl against Beijing Guoan Talent players.

Malaysia

Another favorite for the championship and have to decide who they hate most – Singapore, Thailand, or Indonesia. Coached by Dollah Salleh, the legend of late 20th century’s Asian football. If Singapore are the team to feature a Chinese player, this is the one to support if you’re into Indian footballers.

Foreign-based players: None.

The Ace: Indra Putra Mahayuddin. A favorite of 2000s, he disappeared from international football scene and stages a comeback this month.

The Foreigner: Malaysia has never naturalized any foreign star or a foreigner with Malaysian background, although they had accepted few Muslim Burmese in the past. The Indian Malaysians I talked about are Gary Steven Robbat and Kunanlan.

The Problem Child: Safee Sali. He’s a nice guy who’s got into some troubles several times. The first Malaysian who played in Indonesian Super League, he was promised number 10 shirt at Persija Jakarta but got number 55 instead. A somewhat working analogy of his time in Indonesia is like a Japanese star who plays in K-League – both Indonesians and Malaysians are okay with it and he was not heckled, but both parties saw him as tainted. In 2014 Johor almost handed him over to Selangor, but eventually he stayed with Johor.

Thailand

Difficult spellings too, but hey, it’s essential to remember their names. Traditionally seen as the big boss of Southeast Asia, they are in crazy and unstable forms in this century. This week they defeated New Zealand 2-0 but lost all their qualifications matches for Australia 2015. Like Malaysia, they entrust the national team to a national hero, Kiatisuk Senamuang – who scored 70 goals for Thailand from 1993 to 2006.

Foreign-based player: None.

The Ace: Kawin Thammasatchanan, best goalkeeper of the 2012 edition and one of the most formidable goalkeepers in Southeast Asia, standing at 185 meters (6 feet 1 inch).

The Foreigner: Charyl Chappuis, formerly a reserve player in Grasshopper Zurich and a member of Switzerland winning team at the 2009 U-17 World Cup. He graduated from Thailand U-23 last year and scored his first senior goal this year against Kuwait.

The Problem Child: Thai generals. I really want to support Thailand but if they do good, the generals will take credit for the “happiness”.

Myanmar

Who cares.

So, that’s the preview of eight teams competing in AFF Suzuki Cup 2014. As I’m writing this conclusion, Philippines have overturned a 0-1 shock from Laos into a 2-1 lead. Please enjoy this feat of Southeast Asian football since there won’t be any at the Asian Cup.

 

Evil Asian Football Clubs

Man, last night was intense, wasn’t it? I was really sure Western Sydney Wanderers would have blown it at the last minute, it’d had been 1-1 at full time, and Al Hilal would have steamrolled either in extra times (two goals) or penalty shootouts. But not. They were holding on, with Ante Covic blocked all possible shots or Al Hilal just flunked their great chances.

I was still thinking of writing from another angle, but Al Hilal’s reaction to the full time whistle confirmed my thought – instead of attacking bumbling referee Yuichi Nishimura, Nasser Al Shamrani and other Al Hilal players were attacking Western Sydney players instead.

The reason was same with the vitriolic hatred shown by Guangzhou Evergrande supporters toward Western Sydney, hatred for the ‘white men’ Australians. There was a big difference though. Al Hilal supporters showed themselves to be a good sport, in contrast to the club. At least after the end of the match, when they asked the wandering Australians to take group pictures of the men in blue jerseys. So, at the risk of walking through a painful memory lane (full of muggers and rats), I present several evil football clubs who were in the AFC Champions League final.

1. Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia)

Laurentiu from Arabia. Would Mourinho wear a bowler hat before the Champions League final? Or Pep wearing Lederhosen?

The Boss is indeed a titan of Asian football. Since Saudi players cannot play overseas, of course the best talents play in Saudi Professional League. Their Champions League matches feature full houses, which is a rarity – even their crowd counts often trump other Saudi competitors. Saudi oil, which is used for buying Ferraris instead of building better schools and creating employment for locals, was of course also used to buy football superstars (money from the oil, not the petrol itself) like Brazilians Mario Zagallo and Rivellino. And so Saudi’s orientation on Brazilian football was born, and in early 1990s they earned the “Brazil of Asia” moniker, due to their Brazilian links, individualized playing style, and since most of their footballers are African Arabs (gettit?). Not even Zico could turn Japan into  “Brazil of Asia”, after all.

Al Hilal won the 1991 and 2000 Asian Club Championship but surprisingly they never won the ‘new’ Champions League (wow. I thought they did. Apparently I confused them with their Jeddah rivals Al Ittihad).

My problem with Al Hilal began after I learned that the club complained about the absence of luxury in Sydney while Prince Al Waleed bin Talal promised big bonus for the club. In 2013 he made big fuss with Forbes since the magazine’s estimation of his wealth is below his (while many ethnic Chinese moguls said the magazine always overestimate their fortunes). To the point of threatening to sue Forbes, weeping on the phone, and hiring some white men to publish scathing papers against the magazine.

The club, meanwhile, complained about the hick town that was Sydney, saying that the stadium was shabby (unlike the wonderful King Fahd Stadium) and that the hotel they were staying (I assume Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour) was too small (because unlike Saudi Arabia, Australia has this strange concept of wealth redistribution).

Back in Saudi Arabia, coach Laurentiu Reghecampf donned his Laurentiu of Arabia look, saying no way in hell Wanderers could defeat hims the second time, while Vice President Prince Abdulrahman bin Musaad asked Saudis to pray and do charity works, so that the pleased Allah will help Al Hilal with victory. Theeen…another VP, Mohamad al Hmaidani, called Al Hilal supporters to beat up other clubs’ supporters claiming bin Talal’s free ticket offers, added with obligatory “Yo’ Mama” expression.

At the first half, Al Hilal supporters used laser beams to intimidate the Wanderers (I expect it on the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup. Idiots), unaware that the radiation gave Ante Covic superpower. Nassir Al Shamrani, one of Saudi’s finest strikers, became the villain of the final after repeatedly attacking substitute Matthew Spiranovic (Nishimura ignored, funny guy), then spat on him, and his club went on to win the Fair Play Award (previous winners were always Japanese and Korean clubs).

2. Guangzhou Evergrande (China)

What’s this, early football video game where the players use the same animation?

I tried to look the silver lining of Chinese football. When China were in the 2002 World Cup, I felt the great moment of Pan-Asian pride (of course, I relished the Germany 8 Saudi Arabia 0 match). But Chinese attitude in politics, environment, human rights, and its clubs attitude, made it harder for me to appreciate any bit of my ancestors’ homeland.

Again, Western Sydney Wanderers. Again, Juric scored the single goal in a night in Parramatta. Again, the richer club made several threats against the Australians. We are giants with wealth and power you can’t imagine. Evergrande even could take the brag to another notch – our coach had won the World Cup and the UEFA Champions League and our playmaker was good enough to play in the World Cup (I always insert Diamanti into my Italy 23). We are unbeatable. Our fanatical supporters will surround you in a massive dome you never seen before (again, Evergrande relied on female supporters, unlike Al Hilal who shunned them). We will show you the power of Asian football that will make you speechless. Prepare to suffer.

Essentially, both the royal Saudi and Chinese (for a communist state, they take their royalty seriously, don’t they?) can’t forgive the Australians for so many things. For setting up shop nearby. For being one of the best countries in the world without producing anything luxurious. For not being a part of thousand years imperial history. For being white and speaking English. For being a democracy.

The supporters, the Italians, and the football domination were not enough, anyway, that Evergrande supporters had to ram Western Sydney’s bus, had to terrorize their night, and yes, had to attack Covic’s eyes again with lasers. So much for their trust for Lippi, Diamanti, and the domestic players.

Tonight Evergrande has clinched another Chinese Super League title, and the league’s final top scorers tell the story – out of the top ten goal scorers, only one is Chinese. Wu Lei from Shanghai SIPG. The others might follow Evergrande’s strategy – defend and let the foreigners score.

3. Al Sadd (Qatar)

Play to win

 

When a Qatari talks about “The Boss” in football, he (hardly a she) talks about Al Sadd, winners of 2011 AFC Champions League. I saw on TV the terrible semi final match against Suwon, when Mamadou Niang (formerly a striker for Marseille and Fenerbahce) scored when Suwon thought Al Sadd would’ve waited for the on pitch treatment for Cho Sung-hwan. Well, if Jose Mourinho has not aware of the seriousness of head injury in 2014, so would Niang back in 2011. After the brawl (involving a pitch invader), Al Sadd’s Korean defender Lee Jung-soo walked out of the scene from frustration, asking to be subbed. It’s said he was censured by the management for not standing up for the club. But when he had to choose in 2012 between Al Sadd and Evergrande, he sticks with the lesser evil until today.

To my pain, Al Sadd defeated Jeonbuk to win the Champions League and defeated hosts Kashiwa Reysol in the Club World Cup.

4. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (Korea, 1989-2013)

A bad Korean club? Not that they did brawl in Champions League finals, but because they were owned by an evil organization – the Moonies. Or officially, the Church of Unification, who’s fond of marrying strangers based on the founder’s hunch (he’s literally the brother of Jesus, you know). After being a feeble team in the 1990s, in 1999 the club relocated from Cheonan to Seongnam, a satellite city of Seoul, and had more capital to attract top Korean players and decent foreigners. They dominated K-League in early 2000s but lost the 2004 Champions League final to Al Ittihad. In 2010 they finally won the Champions League and Sasa Ognenovski became a famous Socceroo.

Praise Jesus, in 2013 Sun Myung-moon after committing decades of crimes including asking Americans to forgive Richard Nixon, financing a terrible movie on the Battle of Inchon, creating The Washington Times, and evading tax. And oh, brainwashing people, intimidating those who want to leave his sect, and being cozy with Christian and Islamic religious nuts in United States (while waging war against Christian churches in Korea, interesting).

So with Sun bit the dust, the Moonies had little interest in running the club and sold it to the city of Ansan. After protests from club supporters, it was purchased by the government of Seongnam and now it’s a nice club. It’s unknown if Seongnam players were forced or persuaded to join Unification Church activities, but certainly many notable players from Korea and overseas used it as a stepping stone before moving to relatively saner clubs in Asia.

The four clubs I described were not necessarily evil in the sense of Dr. Evil from Evil University. Their players were professional footballers, not criminals. But they grow up in countries and societies that value wealth, ego, showmanship, and think little about social justice, communities, and ethics. In the case of Ilhwa Chunma, it grew up in the curious phenomenon that in Korea, that is industrious and impressible toward charismatic cults at the same time. I’m just glad that Sun’s death brought the end to the cult’s grip on the football club – a dark chapter in Korean history is behind us.

The same cannot be said for Saudi Arabia, China, and Qatar and many other Asian countries. I was one of Asians who deplored Australian entry into AFC, but well, the high hope that Australia can cure some diseases of Asian football is taking place, one step at a time. I’ve heard that some Australians demand AFC to drop sanction on Nasser Al Shamrani, while knowing it won’t happen. I still don’t know how did Koreans react to Niang’s unsportsmanlike behavior, besides calling Al Sadd as “Al Badd”.

But if Japanese media won’t talk (today Japanese supporters marched against racism – couldn’t find the news, sadly), then I applaud Australia’s loud call. Western Sydney Wanderers have proven that money and power cannot buy love. Let Asians take heed.

5 Things from Asian Football this week

It’s Euro qualifying week so it’s friendly week in Asia. By tradition, it never runs well for both Korea and Japan (Kirin [Challenge] Cup was hardly fun), and for a change of pace, Australia still had not won an international this year (to the joy of some Asian media). Basically, it’s about how Asia moves beyond Brazil 2014. Here are five things I took note.

Work sucks.

Work sucks.

1. Keeper

Eiji Kawashima. 2014 caps with Japan: 8. Goals conceded: 13. 2014-15 appearances in Belgian Pro League: 7. Goals conceded: 16. He’s terrible in club and country. Last semester he was close to win the trophy (Liege were the top of the regular league, but lost in the final group by two points) and was the second safest hands in Belgium, together with Australian Mat Ryan (Anderlecht’s Silvio Proto was the top goalkeeper).

Last night he conceded five, his second time this season – to round up a terrible week after he was blamed for Venezuela’s second goal in the 2-2 friendly. He passed August without a clean sheet, and Liege’s sub goalkeeper Yoann Thuram is itching to take over his place. He has a great chance to be a benchwarmer before Christmas. Lucky for him, in Japan no one is able yet to replace him. Shusaku Nishikawa let three goals past him the last time he guarded Japan’s goal for 90 minutes (against Zambia), but things may change if Liege’s coach Guy Luzon has enough with Kawashima and if Nishikawa brings Urawa to win the J. League title.

Australia experienced a serious bout of Europe-based keeper disappointments. Adam Federici. Brad Jones. Nathan Coe. Mitch Langerak. Mat Ryan seemed to be answer, but just like Kawashima, he had conceded 13 goals this year, out of 8 games. Ironically, Australia’s first victory came when Langerak was on duty – considering that Ryan let no goal past him against Ecuador in the first half while Langerak missed four in 45 minutes.

Club wise, the rivalry between Ryan and Kawashima was one thing that made me keeping track of Belgian Pro League (not much news is in English), and often Ryan seemed like winning. He’s not doing that bad, compared to Kawashima, conceded seven goals out of six matches, but his mates did not do very well in scoring. Maybe just like in Australia. Langerak, meanwhile, experiences the benefits of training with Dortmund without the perk of playing. No one is sure who will stand for Australia in the AFC Asian Cup.

Now to Korea, which never exports a goalkeeper to Europe. Lee Woon-jae was much better than Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, but he stayed in Suwon. Jung Sung-ryong, a rival of Kawashima, seems to be having the same path (lucky for him, things are looking up for Suwon). New coach Uli Stielike tries new options with Kim Jin-hyeon (who I picked into my Korea 23 to Brazil) and Busan’s Lee Beom-yeong. They did well in their matches – both conceded only one goal against Venezuela and Uruguay respectively. But I still don’t understand why does Korea never look at keepers from the two best clubs: Jeonbuk and Pohang. It’s been like this throughout this century. Do KFA and POSCO and Hyundai Motors have some sort of unresolved issues? I’m asking this because both Kim and Lee are playing for clubs who are in the relegation zone.

2. The world does not really care about Australian transitional period.

Australian bloggers and pundit remind fans and readers that the Socceroos are in a transitional period. Results should be seen in perspective. Cahill scored one of the best goals of Brazil 14. Ange believes in the quality of A-League. Western Sydney are on the verge of making a big bang in Asia. The “Dad’s Army” of Bresciano, Emerton, and Kennedy were changing into one of the youngest squad to appear in a World Cup, and they did fine.

Unfortunately, no one outside Oceania cares. England is just happy that Australia fails to catch up in football, unlike in uh, rugby or cricket or basketball. Asia loves seeing Australia’s gradual decline with different kind of degrees – even if their footballs are not better either.

For one thing, Australia still cannot live without Tim Cahill, who is very likely to be in for AFC Asian Cup. He is still Australia’s best striker, with Mat Leckie and Tommy Oar are now employed as wingers. It won’t be all good for Mark Bresciano, but it seems that Socceroos can go on without him (he played 13 minutes against Saudi Arabia). Tomi Juric is on the card, but again, Americans and British (English+Scottish by next week) are more likely to follow news on him than Asians do.

3. Japan: The parts are better than its sum

“Don’t blame me, I wasn’t playing with Manchester United.” That was last year. That was last month. “Don’t blame me, I wasn’t playing with Japan.” That was this month. So Shinji Kagawa left Manchester and returned to Dortmund, got number 7, and was put behind Adrian Ramos. It took him 40 minutes to score. 40 minutes. After 30 scoreless matches with Manchester United.

Meanwhile, Shinji Okazaki is now improbably Bundesliga’s top scorer, together with Julian Schieber. Above Son Heung-min. Above Thomas Muller. Above Ivica Olic. Above Pierre Aubameyang. It’s a big question that Javier Aguerre does not put him as the striker – insisting that he’s a right winger.

One of my joys of life is holding an affordable official Blue Samurai merchandise. The three legged crow, the JFA letters, the beautiful blue. Now it feels like it’s a brand of disappointment, of poor quality, of being clueless. But maybe it goes the same for England. Or Manchester United.

4. China tries. Not too hard.

One of the things you can say to make me laugh is saying that China can win the World Cup (so do Japan. Logically, any nation can win the World Cup). A proud Chinese and admirers of China say nothing is impossible – China had sent people to outer space, has won the Olympics (gathering the most gold medals, actually), made great laptops and mobile phones, and won tennis Grand Slams.

The World Cup, football, of course is different. It’s not related with economic progress or growing political power. It’s related with football culture. United States, the richest country in the world, was terrible with football in the second part of 20th century because it didn’t like soccer. Same went with Japan and Australia. Then in early 1990s, USA and Japan made professional leagues and invested in grass root football. Australia followed suit in early 2000s. Three of them had different catalysts. For USA, it was the successful World Cup. For Japan, it was winning AFC Asian Cup 1992 followed by the Agony of Doha (Iraq-Japan 2-2). For Australia, it was defeating American Samoa 31-0 followed by inter-ethnic riots that marred the semi-pro National Soccer League in early 2000s.

What’s supposed to be the catalyst for China? The Beijing Olympics failed to do so. Would it be Evergrande’s AFC Champions League title? Still not quite. China has to send players to Europe first, busting their arses and feet like Hide Nakata, Viduka, and Park Ji-sung did. Like Okazaki, Jedinak, and Son Heung-min do. Chinese Super League won’t be enough.

At least this month China did friendlies not for the show. They challenged Asian teams who are as strong as them – Kuwait and Jordan. China should push further. Arrange friendlies OUTSIDE China. Travel to the Middle East, to Europe, to North America, to Oceania. Export players to Asia like other Asians do – Japanese in India, Koreans in Qatar, Australians in Malaysia. Any self help guru says you have to break through your comfort zone. Japan, USA, and Australia have done it. Now it’s China’s turn.

#WeAreHK. Dozens of us.

#WeAreHK. Dozens of us.

5. Hong Kong national team is more important than ever

Asia used to sneer Hong Kong as a mercenary team. Some Chinese with a number of Westerners and Africans thrown in to increase the winning odd. Maybe in this modern Carthage, it’s hard to find local who’s willing to become professional athlete, although every boy wants to play football and their dads bet for Barcelona.

As Hong Kongers believe it is under heavy pressure from China to abandon its freedom and way of life, the national team becomes a symbol of hope and independence. It’s no wonder that the history of Hong Kong 2 China 1 of 1985 is revived (All Hong Kong players were Cantonese in that match, saved for sub Phillip Reis, who might be half or full blooded Portuguese). #WeAreHK appeared during the match against Singapore.

Hong Kong footballers who were lost to Vietnam (twice) and held Singapore (they would meet Singapore again next month) consisted of local Cantonese, Chinese who were born in China, naturalized Africans, and Westerners who were born in Hong Kong. Such is the multiculturalism that Hong Kong holds as its identity, and which China takes as a relic of British colonialism. On the other hand, I agree that Hong Kongers should start accepting Chinese citizens as humans, not “locusts”. The problem is the People’s Republic of China, not the Chinese people.

Better yet for Hong Kong, China is out of the AFC Champions League, but a Hong Kong club makes it into the semi finals of the AFC Cup. Worse for China, Kitchee’s opponents would be Erbil, the Kurdish club whose hometown is not only much older than Xian, but which autonomy has been impregnable by Saddam’s regime, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State.

All Right in the East…and West

Who said Twitter campaign doesn't work?

Who said Twitter campaign doesn’t work?

Last week I thought things were fine in Asia. This was when the scoreboards were Mouscron-Peruwelz (gah) 5 Standard Liege 2 and MK Dons 4 Manchester United 0 (plus a concussion). But suddenly things look up.

Start with the East, like the movement of sun is. K-League (Classic) continues its tradition of making into the semi finals of AFC Champions League, and the fancier Seoul defeat the unfancied (less fancied?) Pohang. Pohang’s indie rustic charm is something to admire – like Borussia Dortmund or Udinese. But somehow I just prefer Seoul’s cosmopolitanism. They have the only professional Spanish-Japanese footballer on Earth, after all (who is not that good). Homegrown players and local flavor must be something to be desired in modern club football everywhere (especially in Europe), but I’m bit worried that the “all-local” trend growing in Japan and Korea is more about racial purity than about pure football.

A Korean will be surely playing in the Champions League final, provided he is not injured – Kwak Tae-hwi from Al Hilal or Lee Myeong-ju (who was in Pohang last semester) from Al Ain. A defender and an aggressive midfielder – the proverbial Chinese duel of shield against sword.

And I’ve surprised myself by coming long way – cheering for an Australian team that has no player from East Asian heritage. Western Sydney’s starting eleven consisted of three Australians from ex-Yugoslavian background (Serbs, Croatians, Slovenians etc.), an Italian, a Croat, an Albanian, a half Mauritian-half German Australian, three Anglo-Irish Australians, and an African-Australian. Versus eight Chinese, a Brazilian, and two Italians.

So why didn’t I support the Chinese? Because I dislike their football – the Chinese defend and pass, the foreigners score. Evergrande go a long way in China and Asia (and even the world) with this tactic, but it does not any good for the Chinese national team. Because I dislike the bad sport of Chinese footballers. Because I dislike how working in CSL corrupts foreign players and managers. Because I dislike Evergrande’s supporters heavy handed tactics to intimidate Western Sydney. It’s more than anger against Vitor Saba’s acting. It’s pure racist hatred against the white Australians who dared to defeat Evergrande. I’m not sure about how they will treat Korean visitors, but Japanese visitors might be subjected to same, or even worse bullying. We don’t need that kind of trouble on the next stage (Evergrande will return next year).

An Italian approaches an Arab. A Croat and Chinese stay away.

An Italian approaches an Arab. A Croat and Chinese stay away.

I think I’d be neutral on the semi finals between Seoul and Western Sydney. It’s easy to go for Seoul, but I also fancy the fairy tale story of Western Sydney becoming the first A-League team to become the Champions of Asia. Just as I want Australia to win the AFC Asian Cup, despite Japan and Korea.

Now, to Europe. I’m planning to visit the nearest Puma shop to buy a Borussia Dortmund merchandise, because they’ve become my dream team – a team containing an Australian, a Korean, and a Japanese. Well, Mitch Langerak is on the bench again, Ji Dong-won does not sit there at all, and Kagawa has to prove himself against Milo Jojic and Sven Bender (it’s almost impossible to challenge Marco Reus). And euh, that Armenian guy.

I had the feeling Keisuke Honda would score the first Serie A goal for Milan and he did. Thank you Pippo for believing in him. Too bad Inter abandon the left midfield position so Nagatomo is a sub (unless he can overthrow Dodo, but it seems he’s better to be a left midfielder than a left defender).

Son sadly played only a half as Leverkusen continued its winning run, recently against Hosogai’s Berlin, the 2 against 1 fight between Koo and Okazaki versus Kiyotake ended 0-0, while Osako scored against Stuttgart.

In England, Ki earned a yellow card while Swansea are at number two, above Aston Villa (really), Manchester City, and Liverpool. Yoshida is hitori janai as Schneiderlin and Rodriguez stay in Southampton and his central back position is secured. And I can worry less about Manchester United. I think.

[Update: Southampton just welcomed Belgian central back Toby Alderweireld. Oh Maya.]

 

A History of Southeast Asia and the World Cup: 1993-2013

These stories happen most likely when you’re around.

1993: Hunger Games III

How the world had changed. West Germany, the champions of 1990 World Cup, were no longer there. Klinsmann, Matthaus, and Illgner were still around, added by some not so notable easterners like Thomas Doll and Andreas Kopke (who might be the only easterner in the German team for World Cup 94). Hipsters’ choices Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia did not exist anymore, while AFC experienced an explosion of new species.

In school I learned that Southeast Asia was essentially Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, and I only had to learn about these six countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, and Brunei) because the rest were dirty commies. But now Indonesia and Japan trumpeted their roles in building new Cambodia and United States welcomed the opening of Vietnam.

Sour Myanmar, however, still refused to join the pool party and withdrew from Group B of First Round AFC qualification, leaving Taiwan to be bullied around by Iran, Syria, and Oman. Congratulations to three unimportant Taiwanese who managed to score a single goal. You made life less painful for the goalkeeper(s).

Group C had three Southeast Asian teams including newcomers Vietnam. 1994 was a high time for Indonesian economy with buzzwords such as globalization, cyberspace, and Asian values. No such joys for the national team, who went down to group hosts Qatar 1-3 on first match. North Korea then did a one-two on Vietnam and Singapore before doing Indonesia 4-0, all just in five days. Sheez.

Singapore had their first win against Vietnam with legends Fandi Ahmad and V. Sundramoorthy, only to be smashed down again by Qatar in three days. Life got worse for Indonesia after losing 0-1 to Vietnam (Ha Vuong Ngau Nai scored). Do you want more, Indonesia? 0-2 to Singapore then, Mohammad Rafi Ali and Sundramoorthy. Trust me, Indonesia know better “Agony of Doha” than Japan. Yes, Qatar. 1-4. Both them and North Korea really had fun with the Southeast Asians, before Singapore registered 1-0 wins against Vietnam and Qatar (Ali and Ahmad). Indonesia had its only victory, a 2-1 to Vietnam, before lost by the same score to Singapore.

North Korea won this bloody group, with Singapore coming third with five wins. Singapore Lions attacking midfielder Varadaraju the Dazzler (kids, there was no S. League and Singapore played in Malaysian league) scored four goals, officially one of the best footballers in Southeast Asia this year. Indonesian press were so unhappy with the seven defeats.

In Group E, Malaysia were lucky enough to be put with Macau and to host the group. Azman Adnan equalized against Kuwait and Malaysia had their second draws to Saudi Arabia. Sexy time came against Macau with Adnan scored a hattrick while both Azizol Abu Haniffah and Abdul Mokhtar scored two goals. 9-0. Then the matches were moved to Riyadh and bad times came with both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia scored five on Malaysia between them. At least there were Macau. 5-0 this time with two more goals from Adnan and Paramasivan Ravindran. So we had Sundramoorthy from Singapore and now Adnan (who played in Selangor) from Malaysia. What about Thailand?

Too bad for Thailand, they were grouped with Japan and UAE. The 1992 champions of Asia, so eager to travel to United States, kicked off with 1-0 win to Thailand. Three days later in Tokyo, Thailand won 1-0 to Sri Lanka (Kiatisuk Senamuang) – and lost with the same score to UAE. Thailand then defeated its nemesis (this is a nerdy trivia question: “Who were Thailand’s World Cup qualification rivals in 1980s and early 1990s?”) Bangladesh again, 4-1, with a hattrick by Piyapong Pue-on.

In Dubai, Thailand lost to Japan and UAE before defeating the South Asians with five goals scored by Piyapong Pue-on, the Royal Thai Air Force striker. A bittersweet but promising year for Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, and a completely forgettable year for Indonesia.

"Why 1990's Singapore rocks". I agree.

“Why 1990’s Singapore rocks”. I agree.

1997: Football in the Time of Cholera

1997 ended the roaring 1990s for Asia abruptly – Thai Bath collapsed and with it Thai, Malaysian, Korean, and Indonesian economies (all built upon weak and corrupt foundations). Japan, who had struggled with recession since 1991, experienced mounting social problems evident in manga Great Teacher Onizuka.

Of course, no one knew what was coming in March, when Azman Adnan scored again against Bangladesh, held Saudi Arabia goalless, and took it easy against Taiwan. Things went sour as usual away from Kuala Lumpur – Taiwan held Malaysia 0-0 and Saudi scored three. Naturally Malaysia defeated Bangladesh again but that’s all about it.

In Jakarta, Indonesia had fun 8-0 against Cambodia before disappointingly held by Yemen – and by Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Bad memories of 1993 reappeared and came true. After two draws with Uzbekistan and Yemen, Uzbekistan killed off Indonesia 3-0 in Tashkent, two weeks before the deluge of 2 July.

Thailand braced themselves against South Korea and Hong Kong, appearing for the last time with its British colonial flag (before flying its Chinese colonial flag next semester). Piyapong Pue-on equalized early in second half before Ha Seok-ju and Choi Moon-sik put down Thai resistance. Thailand defeated Hong Kong 2-0 at home, before it was revealed in November that four Hong Kong players bet their losses for two goals. Such low lives. Hong Kong defeated Thailand 3-2 at home, and so their defensive play in the last match against South Korea were meaningless. Looking from their World Cup records, it’s astonishing that Thailand were seen as the big boys of Southeast Asia in the 20th century.

It was worse for Singapore…were the signs of the fall down actually visible early in the year? Asians intoxicated with Spice Girls, David Beckham, and Netscape Navigator certainly didn’t see it coming. Singapore simply had no chance against Kuwait and Lebanon, two easy opponents they should have overcome. Singapore would stand tall during the financial crisis thanks to steady influx of Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai money.

Finally, the Philippines. After decades, they finally got their hands on football and lost to Qatar, Sri Lanka, and India. The end.

 

2001: Without Japan and South Korea

Japan and Republic of Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup, everyone had recovered from the financial crisis and enjoyed the new millennium. Laos and Philippines were grouped together so they could see which one were worse: the Philippines, who Laos defeated 2-0 and held 1-1. Other than that, they were both shooting practices for Oman and Syria.

Malaysia had the honor of playing football with Palestine, the rallying point of the Muslim world. But first they had to endure 5-1 beating by Qatar before Akmal Rakhli scored two past Hong Kong. Unfortunately, they lost both to Palestine and Hong Kong before defeating Palestine 4-3 in a battle royal before lucky 400 people in Doha on 25 March 2001. I need the footage of this match uploaded on YouTube, please. Rakhli from amateur French club FCSR Haguenau (a reject of Strasbourg) scored two goals again.

Singapore football was still in slump. Draws with Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan and losses against everyone else.

Thailand, meanwhile, became the first Southeast Asians since Indonesia in 1985 to pass the first stage. They got an easy group consisted of Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and they took the chance well with goals from Seksan Piturat (Sinthana), Kiatisuk Senamuang (Raj Pracha), and Sakesan Pituratna. Oh wait, this is actually Piturat. So did he change his name or different spelling or what?

There was this group where Brunei met India, Yemen, and UAE. Humiliation ensued.

Finally, Indonesia kicked off its campaign with five past Maldives. Then six past Cambodia. Two again to Cambodia. Two to Maldives. Wonderful. And theeeen…they met China. China won twice. Close but no cigars. But nothing to shame of. Except for the unrealistic Indonesian press.

Vietnam also did well against Bangladesh and Mongolia, but not against Saudi Arabia.

Because of Thailand, I have to continue my story instead of moving on. Without Japan and South Korea (sourpuss North Korea didn’t participate as they didn’t want to visit both nice places),  there were these seven Arab states, Iran, Uzbekistan, and Thailand. Thailand were slammed 0-4 on first day by Iraq before held Iran 0-0 in Bangkok. The pattern continued – drew and losses with five goals scored by Piturat, Senamuang, Sutee Suksomsit (Thai Farmers Bank. Remember them?), and Worrawoot Srimaka (BEC Tero Sasana). OK Thailand, you have done what Malaysia cannot.

Nobody dyed their hair blond. I'm disappointed.

Nobody dyed their hair blond. I’m disappointed.

2004: No Second Place

Either other nations got better in football or Southeast Asia got worse in football. Both then. Laos lost to Sri Lanka but something happened: Guam and Nepal both withdrew and FIFA picked a lucky loser – Laos whose loss less severe compared to Bangladesh, Macau, and such. Iran, Jordan, and Qatar thanked them.

Singapore’s woes continued by losing 0-1 to India, 1-2 to Japan, and then 0-7 to Oman. D’oh. 3600 people who kept their hope high watched Singapore defeated India 2-0 at Jalan Besar Stadium with goals from Indra Sahdan and Khairul Mohammad.

You should see Malaysia tho. After decades of coming close to the next round, this time they were utterly simply verily destroyed by Kuwait, China, and unbelievably, Hong Kong. Twice.

Things seemed predictable first for Thailand – lost to UAE, won against Yemen, lost to North Korea, lost to North Korea again. Whoops. They got their act together and superbly defeated UAE 3-0 (Anon Nanok, Thredsak Chaiman, and Jiensathawong Jakapong – now known as Nontapan Jeansatawong…I don’t create bad luck for him for writing his old name, do I?) before held 1-1 by Yemen.

Vietnam did well against Maldives, but not against Lebanon and South Korea.

Ditto for Indonesia. Losing to Turkmenistan (start of a rivalry forgotten by Indonesians) 1-3, they didn’t convince anyone with narrow win and a draw against Sri Lanka, lost again to Saudi Arabia, before Ilham Jaya Kesuma (Tangerang) scored three past Turkmenistan.

No second place, because all Southeast Asia were in third and fourth places.

 

2007-2008: Three-Stages Vetting

Let’s try something new – Asian countries except Japan, South Korea, and prodigal sons Australia must prove their worth first. So Thailand put 13 past Macau, Myanmar received 11 from China, Vietnam were destroyed by UAE, Malaysia lost to Bahrain, newcomers Timor Leste lost to Hong Kong (playing their home match in Indonesia), Singapore defeated Palestine 4-0 in Doha and were awarded 3-0 victory when Israel prevented Palestine players from leaving Gaza Strip and denied them the chance of admiring the Changi Airport. Indonesia got it easy against Guam.

Next, Thailand and Singapore defeated Yemen and Tajikistan respectively while Indonesia, after lost 1-4 to Syria at home, threw the game away by immersing themselves in a series of demotivational seminars and book discussion. The result? Syria 7 Indonesia 0. That’s the spirit.

So Thailand were grouped with Japan, Bahrain, and Oman while Singapore were with Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. By June 2008 Thailand had known where they were heading – losses to Japan and Bahrain and draw with Oman. No, they did not score any win.

Singapore, meanwhile, defeated Lebanon 2-0. After a decade of agony, Singapore decided to ask foreigners playing in the S. League who were charmed with the clean and safe streets, the lavish malls, the beautiful women and the impossibility to play for England, Nigeria, China, and Australia to play for the Lions instead. The results: Awesomeness and increased jealousy from neighbors. They heroically lost 3-7 to Uzbekistan, then got foolish and fielded Qiu Li, whose transfer of citizenship from China to Singapore had not cleared. Uzbekistan won 1-0 but FIFA awarded the 3-0 result. Qiu Li played again when Singapore lost to Saudi Arabia 0-2. In the end, Singapore defeated Lebanon 2-1 with Baihakki Khaizan and Ramez Dayoub scored own goals for both teams. Never mind the FIFA sanction – the naturalization model worked. How else you would defeat Lebanon?

 

2011-2012: Never mind the World Cup. Let’s try being good in football first.

So here we are. Oh okay, 2011 happened three years ago. Right. Mohammad Safiq Rahim (Selangor) and Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak (Negeri Sembilan/ATM FA) scored against Taiwan, with a twist. Taiwan heroically won their home match 3-2 and thus lost to Malaysia by away goal rule.

Philippines, playing the naturalization game by recruiting half-Filipinos boys in Europe and United States who played football (there were plenty of them!) defeated Sri Lanka. Without naturalization (well) Vietnam put 13 past Macau while Timor Leste, sporting Brazilian names and Australian grass root spirit, conceded seven Nepalese goals instead.

In the second round, Thailand defeated Palestine 1-0 and passed the round in dramatic fashion – Murad Alyan scored in the injury time only for Datsakorn Thonglao to equalize at the last chance. Laos managed to score three past China, which was good enough for a team receiving 13. Indonesia-Turkmenistan showdown happened again, and at least now Indonesia fighting properly – after a 1-1 draw in Asghabat, they gave all before 88 thousand crowds in Jakarta and Uruguay-born Cristian Gonzalez (who met his Indonesian wife in Uruguay instead of Indonesia) scored a brace. Actually Indonesia led 4-1 before the lapse defense gave supporters double heart attacks in the last 10 minutes.

No such luck for the German and English Filipinos as Kuwait put five against them and FIFA awarded Oman two 3-0 wins over Myanmar due to crowd trouble (they hurled objects to Oman’s goal while singing the national anthem) in Yangon. Qatar defeated Vietnam and here’s the real deal: Singapore v Malaysia.

Apparently only 6000 Singaporeans (maybe a good number of them were actually Malaysians) interested to see this “Causeway Derby” (come on, we need a scarier name. Singapore is the only nation in history to be expelled from a union. Imagine the Scots insisted to stay in union with the English, but the English could not take it anymore and declared instead of granted the independence of Scotland). In this battle royale, Safee Sali (Pelita Jaya) scored directly from kick off while Aleks Duric (Tampines) equalized in seven minutes. Singapore led 4-1 at half time, but on the second half Abdul Hadi (Terengganu) and Safee scored, before Duric sealed the victory for Singapore. Here are the highlights and all videos I found on YouTube on this match supported Malaysia.

90 thousand Malaysians crowded Bukit Jalil Stadium on 28 July 2011 and Safee scored to make the aggregate 5-4. Chinese born Shi Jiayi equalized and Singapore won the derby, kicking out Malaysia from the competition. Securities cordoned Singaporean supporters and they were permitted to leave only after the stadium was cleared from Malaysian supporters.

So once more, Singapore and Thailand represented Southeast Asia for the third round. Singapore lost all matches against China, Jordan, and Iraq while Thailand defeated Oman 3-0 (Sompong Soleb from Bangkok United, Teerasil Dangda from Muangthong United, and own goal from Rashid al Farsi) and held Saudi Arabia 0-0. Other than that, they lost to Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

One last thing: Indonesia.

 

Epilogue

There’s the cruel parody of Lightning Seeds’ “Three Lions” which I remember goes like “Three Lions on a shirt/Luiz Scolari still grinning/Thirty(forty? fifty?) years of horror/never stops me from screaming”. It’s the same way in Southeast Asia. We’ve recruited Europeans with blood relations, we’ve naturalized foreigners playing in our leagues, we’ve partnered with European clubs, we’ve hired big has-beens as coaches, and Southeast Asia still couldn’t defeat the Arabs who seemed didn’t have to try. At least now we’ve been good against South Asians although FIFA ranks them higher than us.

Both Southeast Asians and West Asians glue themselves to couch clad in Real Madrid jerseys, play wicked Winning Eleven, and making online comments about how crap Cristiano is. Then after despairing about the national team, both of us admire Japan, their bushido spirit and Captain Tsubasa and all, sparing no positive thought for South Korea and Australia.

We have our hometown heroes, our childhood memories, and it’s good that in this age of Twitter and Instagram, we feel we are too rich and royal to support the local club but we are so proud of our national players who are either half-white or coming from the same ethnicity with us. We buy their jerseys from the Nike store in our favorite malls.

But you know one thing we lack of? Unlike the Japanese, we don’t bust our asses playing football. We are nations of DIFM (Do It For Me), not DIY (Do It Yourself). I don’t know how the Saudis got their World Cups, but that’s how Japan, Australia, and Republic of Korea qualify again and again.

Great stuff. How's the football?

Great stuff. How’s the football?

A History of Southeast Asia & the World Cup: 1934-1989

These days with World Cup 2014 video game I’m playing around the Southeast Asian teams. Hm, Singapore do have some Singapore-born Chinese, like Joey Sim and Andrew Tan (actually there are only two of them). I wish I could enjoy Indonesia better but nah, although I’m happy that EA still rates them stronger than Malaysia and Vietnam (that’s weird.)

So, rather than previewing Australia, Japan, and Korea in the World Cup (ready for the mess?), I want to tell you stories on how did Southeast Asia keep failing in their World Cup campaigns.

1934-1954: One and Only Dutch East Indies

Asia, 1934. The whole continent was under European, American, and Japanese rules with the exception of fractured China. The Europeans and Americans had introduced football in Philippines, Southeast Asia, and Western Asia. Some ethnic-based clubs had been formed for identity bonding and nationalism, just like migrants in Canada, Australia, Brazil, and United States formed their sporting clubs. The Japanese, meanwhile, were more into baseball and lovingly taught that sport to the Taiwanese.

Since no one in East Asia wanted to sail all the way to Italy, no country or territory was interested with the 1934 World Cup. Three Middle Eastern (now only one of them is in AFC) countries were in Group 12 – Egypt, Palestine (consisted of nine British, six Jews, and an Arab), and Turkey who withdrew. So Palestine might be the first Asian team in the World Cup, and this Palestine was the precursor to modern Israeli and Palestine national teams.

Indonesian media love to point out that Indonesia were the first Asian team in the World Cup. With the caveat that it competed under the name Dutch East Indies back in 1938 and they lost to Hungary 0-6 in first round. That’s all. No more story.

Indeed there was no Indonesia back in 1938, there were Dutch East Indies. Only them and Japan were available in the Asian group – I wonder what had happened to French Indochina (while France hosted the World Cup) and the Philippines (United States were regulars at 1930s World Cup). The British Empire naturally were too arrogant to join the continental tournament. So Japan withdrew since they were too busy killing the Chinese and preparing for the invasion of Asia, leaving Dutch East Indies sailing across the Indian Ocean to France.

Here is the roster of the Dutch East Indies squad against Hungary and their supposed ethnicity:

Goalkeeper: Tan Mo Heng (Chinese, HTCNH)

Defenders: Frans Hu Kon (Chinese, Sparta), Jack Kolle (Dutch/Eurasian…maybe even Jew, Excelsior)

M: Sutan Anwar (Minang, VIOS), Frans Meeng (Chinese, probably, SVVB) (captain), Achmad Nawir (Javanese, probably, HBS)

F: Frans Taihuttu (Moluccan, Jong Ambon), Henk Zomers (Dutch/Eurasian, Hercules), Tan Hong Djien (Chinese, Tiong Hoa), Suvarte Soedarmadji (Javanese, HBS), Tjaak Pattiwael (Moluccan, Jong Ambon)

Coach: Johan Mastenbroek

And introducing the plushie.

And introducing the plushie.

Some 2-3-5 it was. You can see why modern Indonesia is not too proud of them – too many Dutch and Chinese for modern Indonesian liking (supposedly Muslim Indonesians have no problem with the Christian South Mollucans/Ambonese, which still contributed many players to the national team until 1980s). 9000 people watched the match in Reims on 5 June 1938 where Hungary took 4-0 lead by half time.

Fast forward to 1950 and Asia was wrecked by Second World War. The communists took power in China, independence wars raged over Vietnam and Indonesia, pro-American governments were busily snuffing communism out in Japan and South Korea, India still mourned the loss of Gandhi, and communist rebellion took place in Malaya. Philippines seemed to be the only orderly place in Asia.

Philippines, however, could not afford sailing to Brazil and so they withdrew, along with Indonesia and Burma. India withdrew for one of two reasons – either because they could not play barefoot, or because they also could not afford the trip. Maybe both of them. FIFA gave up looking for a replacement.

In 1954 only East Asians contested the qualification. Republic of China withdrew so the South Koreans began the long tradition of kicking Japanese asses with a satisfying 5-1 match in Tokyo.

 

1957-1969: Withdraw, Withdraw!

Indonesia were back as the muscle of Southeast Asia (pretty much because no one else competed). Anti-communist Republic of China withdrew, knowing that if they won, they must face something more repulsive than Indonesia – the People’s Republic. The 2-0 victory against China in Jakarta is still a legend of Indonesian football history, along with 0-0 draw against Soviet Union in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Gowan (in South Sulawesi) Ramang, who grew up playing foot volley and thus a master of volleys and scissor kicks, scored both goals. He would score two more goals in the away match in Beijing, in which Indonesia lost 3-4, and Indonesia passed by better goal average (after a pointless 0-0 third match in Burma).

In the Second Round, Indonesia and Egypt spectacularly withdrew because there were Israel. Sudan agreed to move on only to change their minds in the final round. FIFA, however, could not let Israel go to Sweden without winning any match, but even Belgium refused to play them (did Belgium have any interest in Muslim world at this time?) so Wales grabbed the ticket after defeating Israel 2-0 twice. Indonesia threw away its big chance because of religious and quasi-communist politics. Ramang himself would be disgraced in 1960 with accusation of bribery, which was more likely a slander related to political struggles between communists, Islamists, and the Army.

Indonesia blew another chance in 1961 as it withdrew from a three way competition against South Korea and Japan. Certainly Sukarno’s quixotic “revolution” has alienated Indonesia in the region and apparently Indonesia did not like South Korea enough, although Sukarno loved Japan – his new wife was a geisha provided by Toyota, Naoko Nemoto. Korea kicked out Japan again before going down to Yugoslavia in intercontinental playoff. By this time I believe it’s safe to say that Filipinos didn’t care about football.

1965 was an even weirder time. All African teams withdrew and only two Asian teams were available (keywords: Southeast Asia. Domino Theory). Both of them were from the Korean peninsula. Australia finally went into the picture while South Africa, grouped in the Oceania Confederation of Football, were banned. North Korea refused to play in the imperialist land of Japan (which had lost interest in football, thanks to South Korea) and South Korea refused to play in Cambodia, so South Korea said anyong. North Korea gleefully kicked out Australia 6-1 and 3-1, with German-Australian Les Scheinflug scored both goals (I don’t really care about North Korea).

Apparently 1969 was still not a good time for Southeast Asia to compete, although Indonesia had joined the anti-communist bandwagon, securing peace in the region south of South China Sea. South Korea met its foil Australia while still taking the pleasure of beating Japan. In the end, Israel qualified to Mexico.

Everybody hated us.

Everybody hated us.

 

1973-1989: I Couldn’t Believe Thailand were that Bad

In 1973, South Vietnam, which was on the verge of collapse, competed. Surprisingly, they defeated Thailand 1-0 in Seoul while Malaysia went down to Hong Kong 0-1. In the next round South Vietnam were eliminated by both Hong Kong and Japan. Israel and South Korea aced Group 2 while finally the first match between Southeast Asian teams took place: Malaysia defeated Thailand 2-0 on 23 May 1973 in Seoul thanks to Rahim Abdullah and Harun Jusoh. South Korea naturally topped the group.

Indonesia, meanwhile, were grouped together with Iraq, Australia, and New Zealand. A bit weird arrangement. Maybe AFC and FIFA wanted to prevent another walk out by separating Indonesia and Iraq as far as possible from Israel (curiously, Muslim Malaysia had no trouble playing Israel – they lost 0-3). In a tiring six matches marathon over twenty days in Melbourne and Sydney, Indonesia scored only a victory over New Zealand, thanks to Maurice Tillotson’s own goal. So Australia went on to defeat Iran and then South Korea.

AFC and FIFA played a little sadistic hunger game in 1977 – grouped all Southeast Asian teams in one block. Over 15 days in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore (first appearance), and Hong Kong were beating each other (Sri Lanka withdrew early). The hosts looked strong before being trumped 0-4 by Indonesia at the last day, and so Hong Kong walked away as the winners. From these four Southeast Asian countries, only Singapore, powered by Quah Kim Song, managed to score two wins in this group. In the final round, Hong Kong would lose all their matches against Iran, South Korea, Kuwait, and Australia.

In 1981, the Southeast Asians were spread into different groups and there was no assigned host for Group 1. So the Indonesians traveled to Suva, Auckland, Melbourne, and Taipei, to the joy of PSSI suits and their wives. Indonesia scored two home victories, 1-0s against Taiwan (officially called Chinese Taipei now) and Australia. New Zealand, instead of Australia, topped the group.

Malaysia and Thailand found themselves on the same group again over a week in Kuwait City. 2-2 and another shock – South Korea failed to top the group.

Finally, the Singaporeans spent a Christmas in Hong Kong, drew with Hong Kong and lost to North Korea (North Korea didn’t have problem playing in an imperialist British colony. That’s also new).

Malaysia tripped South Korean’s start on 10 March 1985 with a 1-0 victory in Kuala Lumpur (Dollah Saleh). The next week, they defeated Nepal 2-0 (Hassan Sani and James Wong) and looked like South Korea’s campaign would be killed off soon. Zainal Hassan scored a hattrick against Nepal in Kuala Lumpur (5-0) and the last match in Seoul was the decider. The Koreans scored early and Malaysia were kicked out despite three wins – Korea passed through goal average – 7 to Malaysia’s 6. That was really hurt.

Indonesia also rampaged early with victories against Thailand, India, and Bangladesh and Bambang Nurdiansyah and Dede Sulaiman became the stars. After first away victory to Thailand, Indonesia petered out and lost to Bangladesh and drew with India, but enough to top the group. Thailand were only able to defeat Bangladesh 3-0 at home.

Brunei, recently independent from United Kingdom, started off by receiving goals from Macau, Hong Kong, and China. End of story. Singapore were also unfortunate enough to be grouped with Japan and North Korea, although they managed to draw North Korea 1-1 at home.

In the next round, Indonesia lost to South Korea. Thus ended the legend of Sundanese Dede Sulaiman.

The hair. The shorts. The moustaches.

The hair. The shorts. The mustache.

The hunger games returned in 1989: South Korea were grouped together with Malaysia and Singapore. Korea won EVERY match without letting anyone scored against them, while Malaysia and Singapore scored victories against Nepal. Singapore and Malaysia drew 2-2, anyway.

Thailand, meanwhile, delighted with 1-0 victory against Bangladesh before going down repeatedly to China, Iran, and yes, Bangladesh. How humiliating it was.

Finally, Indonesia became the champions of draws by holding both North Korea and Japan 0-0 in Jakarta and Hong Kong 1-1. Their only victory was only 3-2 win against Hong Kong which supposedly was a good spectacle: trailing 0-1 for one hour, Mustaqim equalized only for Nang Yan Leung to score again at the 64th minute. Then Herry Kiswanto scored ten minutes later and one minute before full time to turn the table, denying Hong Kong its only victory in the group.

 

(*Look, I hope somebody has the television footage of this match and kindly uploads it to YouTube. 250 million Indonesians will thank you*)

Those are the stories of qualification for now. Since the Cold War was ending, over the next four years more countries would join in the Asian qualification. Part 2, 1993-2013, is coming up.