Goodbye.

Korea & Japan.

Five years ago I joined Guardian Football’s World Cup 2010 Fans project, where a writer would represent fans of a participating country. I chose Republic of Korea (South Korea) since my hunch was correct – five British men had represented Japan. Besides me were a couple of British men. North Korea was represented by one old Englishman, probably a Trotskyist. They dig North Korea.

My duty was to tweet comments during South Korea’s matches, and I was very lucky that South Korea surprisingly won their opening match against Greece. I gleefully (pun intended) wrote my report and players’ rating, it’s here.

I represented a proud footballing nation of 50 millions which I never stepped into, which language I don’t understand, which I have no direct relations too. I spoke for the feelings of millions of Kims, Lees, Chas, all the clans.

Because none of them wrote for the Guardian. For comparison, all the African nations were represented by African students studying in Britain, and I supposed there were several hundreds or thousands Korean students in Britain, or perhaps Korean-American or Korean-Canadian readers of Guardian Football. But throughout my twelve years of reading Guardian Weekly or Guardian Football, I never met any of them.

When I applied for the voluntary position, I had no football blog. After 2010 World Cup had ended and the project was folded, I made this blog. Strangely I got to know the Brits who represented Japan instead of South Korea, namely Ben Mabley and Sean Carroll.

I’m very different to both men. They are lucky enough to be born in England as white men (both might have Irish heritage, seeing from their names), learned Japanese, and moved to Japan to work. To put it short, Japan is the dream country of all Asians save for Koreans (even until early 2000s, Korean pop singers and footballers built their careers in Japan). I’m lucky enough to be born in a middle class family in Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and studied in Australia.

And yet I threw away my chance to stay in Australia and the 2006 World Cup was a scarring experience for me – Australia, representative of Oceania, demolished Japan, the Kings of Asia, just in five minutes. I hated Australia for several years because of that.

Australia was the place where I developed my Asian pride. Because it’s a developed nation, it’s easy to find goods, people, and cultural items hailing from Japan, Korea, China, and India there. It’s easy to find Chinese people from different backgrounds there – Malaysians, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais. And everyone is proud and open about their background. This is very different to my experience in Indonesia, where Chinese-Indonesians subdue their own identity due to fear.

So why do I support Japan and South Korea instead of China? I supported China in 2002 World Cup. Of course, it was a bit exercise in futility, and I have little love for the People’s Republic of China. You know too well why, from its government to its footballers. My love for Japan and South Korea national football teams go hand in hand with my love for their foods, video games, movies, cartoons, electronics, clothing labels, and cute stuff.

And of course, Japan and South Korea can take on the world on football, unlike China. Japan and Korea have footballers playing in Europe and famous enough worldwide.

Throughout four years of blogging on Asian football, I feel loneliness. Many people I know that talk about Asian football are usually Anglo-Irish men, Australians or British, who are based either in Australia or Asia and work as journalists. They’re on football stadiums week after week, they interview footballers, and they fly between cities.

Some Korean women did follow me, but usually communication ended after it’s clear that I’m not Korean and I don’t speak Korean.

Sometimes I cursed my own fate of being born in and living in Indonesia instead of say, Singapore. But even if I were a Singaporean, local football scene is also far from my ideal. I would be sitting with few other football geeks cheering Malay and foreign players in deserted stadium, complaining about the masses (i.e. Chinese like me) who strolling the malls wearing Manchester United and Barcelona jerseys and the mismanagement of the league (not to mention the single-season foreign teams). Being a Hong Konger would be just few notch up.

Being born as a Japanese or Korean might have its perk of having a mass media reporting local football and packed stadiums, but I would also get frustrated with the timidity and dishonesty of the media and the football world in discussing controversies and bad stuff.

And in any case, I would grumble why do I learn everything about local football from the white men.

In fact, all my world knowledge I get from the white people. Not from my own people.

One characteristic of forums and blogs on Asia is its cynicism, and I don’t like being cynical. Of course, the characteristic of Asian websites is its neutral tone and smiling face. Being fake, in a word.

So I take the irreverent and humorous approach, a la Guardian Football. I want to be entertaining and honest, I don’t want to be being the lying cheerleader of Japan or South Korea or being the bitter “they suck anyway’ prophet of doom.

I enjoy what I wrote, but it did not make me enjoying Asian football better. I could not growth a community, I could not make new friends. And the quality of Japan’s national team is just maddening.

But the main reason I won’t write any new entry on Asian football is because I want to concentrate on my newfound passions. Last year, unexpectedly, I entered the world of feminism and in no time I made new friends and connections worldwide. My Twitter has become so lively with notifications and new tweets that made me can’t stop learning, discovering, exploring, and even laughing.

The consequence is I’m getting disillusioned with everything I loved about Japan and Korea. After saying goodbye to anime and K-pop, now I’m not sure if I’m saying goodbye to their footballs. That might be different. I will always love football, I will always love Japan and South Korea. But I believe it’s futile to write more about them. John Duerden has always written the best bits about them, and also Australia that now I also love (I still dislike China), and if there’d be someone else replacing him, it’d be another Anglo-Irish man instead of Japanese or Korean.

In short, I want to spend my time and energy in writing about feminism. It’s kinda sad that although Japanese women footballers are among the world’s best, so little attention is given to them, including by the Japanese themselves (who would keep complaining about their clubs and men national team). Even it’s kinda sad that JFA will always differentiate the color for men and women national team jerseys, instead making it red for the women too (after the flag, right?).

Thank you for reading and following my blog and for being patient with me. You can stay in touch with me via Twitter on @mariorustan, where I would still tweet about football in Australia, Japan, and Korea.

The Last Image.

The Last Image.

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My picks, their picks

Managers of Australia, Japan, and Korea have picked their 30…23 actually in Japan’s and Korea’s cases…men bound to Brazil. Wow, 23…that’s bit of a rush, isn’t it? It’s good they want to finish a project a month before the deadline so they can concentrate on other things, but yeah, it feels more like being hasty than being so sure and efficient.

So, let’s compare my picks and theirs.

Australia

Goalkeepers

Ange (not Angie)’s picks: Ryan, Langerak, Galekovic (Adelaide), Birighitti (Newcastle Jets).

My picks: Ryan, Federici, Jones, Langerak

Naturally many coaches wanted to balance between players based in Europe and in domestic leagues (with the exception of Africa, in most cases). Ange did not trust English based goalkeepers at all, but among A-League keepers, he picked Galekovic rather than say, Theo from Brisbane or Ante Covic from Western Sydney, who was also a Socceroo regular. Can’t wait to see Ryan facing the world’s best attackers at the group stage.

Defenders

Ange’s picks: Good (Dundee), Davidson, Spiranovic, Wilkshire, Franjic, Wright (Preston), McGowan, Wilkinson

My picks: Wilkshire, Williams, Neill, Herd, McGowan, Smith, Spiranovic, Ognenovski, Wilkinson, Davidson

We agreed on some Asian based players. Herd apparently has “personal issues” while yeah, Smith should have been there.

Midfielders

Ange’s picks: Brillante (Newcastle Jets), Bozanic (Luzern), Bresciano (Al Gharafa), Holland, Jedinak, Milligan, Vidosic, Sarota, McKay, Troisi, Luongo (Swindon)

My picks: Cahill, Holman, Jedinak, Kruse, McKay, Oar, Milligan, Vidosic, Sarota, Holland.

Ange picked Cahill and Oar as forwards but left Kruse, while I picked Troisi as a forward (same with Franjic). I did the silly mistake of omitting Bresciano. He did have legal trouble regarding his transfer but early this year FIFA had permitted him to play for Australia again.

Forward

Ange’s picks: Cahill, Kennedy, Leckie, Oar, Rogic (Melbourne Victory), Halloran (Fortuna), Taggart (Newcastle Jets)

My picks: Leckie, McDonald, Taggart, Troisi, Franjic, Joel Griffiths, Williams

So he didn’t believe in McDonald, while I also regret I forgot Kennedy. Rogic is a fine choice, tho, although I’d have put him as a midfielder.

So, generally we agree that these men are the best out there for Australia. Less flashy than the Japanese, but flashy is never a word associated with Australia. Gutsy is.

 

Oh, Chris.

Oh, Chris.

Japan

Goalkeepers

Al Z’s picks: Kawashima, Nishikawa, Gonda

My picks: Kawashima, Nishikawa, Gonda

Who else? Poor Hayashi.

Defenders

Al Z’s picks: Inoha (Jubilo), Konno (Gamba), Nagatomo, Morishige (Tokyo), Uchida, Yoshida, the Sakais

My picks: Uchida, the Sakais, Yoshida, Masukawa, Shoji, Yasuda, Shiotani, Hashimoto

Besides the elite four, probably four best Asian defenders worldwide, Don Al picked the old names (stars in their own rights at J. League, but with mixed results internationally) for the three subs.

Midfielders

Al Z’s picks: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba), Hasebe, Aoyama (Hiroshima), Yamaguchi (Cerezo)

My picks: Kagawa, Honda, Nagatomo, Hosogai, Kiyotake, Hasebe, Inui, Ono, Tasaka, Doi, Yasushi Endo (Kashima), Ienaga, Kakitani

This means only one thing – he chose only four holding and central midfielders and pushed everyone else as attackers. Old Al counts on four great defenders (with mediocre/poor subs) and the rest to attack, leaving opponents to rule the midfield. We know what will happen. And yeah, we thought about the different Yasu Endo.

While many girls know this Yasu

While many girls know this Yasu

Forwards

Al Z’s picks: Honda, Okubo, Okazaki, Kagawa, Kiyotake, Kakitani, Saito (Marinos), Osako

My picks: Okazaki, Havenaar, Osako, Toyoda, Okubo, Kobayashi

The Senegal option. Even Senegal only chose 7 forwards for 2012 African Cup of Nations (and scored only three goals). Okay, so the difference is I designated Honda, Kagawa, Kiyotake and Kakitani as midfielders while he said they’re forwards. Essentially he picked four forwards. Both of us believe in Okubo and Osako, Okazaki is undisputed with his 15 goals in Bundesliga, but I still believe Havenaar, despite a mixed year (he still can’t become Vitesse’s main contributor after two seasons, keep losing behind a Brazilian), is a far better option than Saito. Still hoping to see Toyoda in Asian Cup 2015.

 

Korea

Goalkeepers

Hong’s picks: Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan), Lee Bum-young (Busan)

My picks: Kim Yong-dae (Seoul), Kim Young-kwang (Gyeongnam), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo)

Totally different. Okay, Jung has replaced Lee Woon-jae since 2010 to become Korea’s number one, and Kim Yong-dae (and the rest of FC Seoul) has been shabby this year. He certainly believes in Kim Seung-gyu better than I do, but I believe it’s unfair to overlook Jin-hyeon.

Defenders

Hong’s picks: Kim Jin-su (Albirex), Kim Young-gwon, Yoon Suk-young, Hwang Seok-ho (Hiroshima), Hong Jeong-ho, Kwak Tae-hwi, Lee Yong (Ulsan), Kim Chang-soo (Kashiwa)

My picks: Park Jo-hoo, Kwak Tae-hwi, Hong Jeong-ho, Kim Jin-kyu, Kim Young-gwon, Hong Chul, Yoon Suk-young

Err…so he went Japanese (I know, I know) with the defenders. It’s too bad Park Jo-hoo is left out (I know, his recovery is slow), we agree that Kim Young-gwon is the best Korean defender in Asia at the moment (with Kwak Tae-hwi the second), and at least there’s a defender with singular given name.

Midfielders

Hong’s picks: Ki Sung-yong, Ha Dae-sung, Han Kook-yong (Kashiwa), Park Jong-woo (R&F), Kim Bo-kyung, Lee Chung-yong, Ji Dong-won, Son Heung-min

My picks: Park Ji-sung, Koo Ja-cheol, Lee Chung-yong, Ki Sung-yong, Kim Do-heon, Kim Nam-il, Kim Bo-kyung, Ji Dong-won, Ha Dae-sung, Lee Seung-gi

We agree more than I expected. We traded roles for Koo Ja-cheol and Son Heung-min.

Forwards

Hong’s picks: Koo Ja-cheol, Lee Keun-ho, Park Chu-young, Kim Shin-wook

My picks: Lee Dong-gook, Son Heung-min, Kim Shin-wook, Kim Seung-dae, Lee Keun-ho, Park Chu-young.

LOL, he picked Chu-young and struck out Dong-gook. At least Shin-wook and Keun-ho are pretty dependable, but it’s a shame that Pohang and Jeonbuk players are again omitted. As usual.

2012 in Asian Football

I want love in a peaceful world.

I want love in a peaceful world.

January

  • The earliest (and latest) cup in global football is lifted every 1st January in Japan. FC Tokyo win the 201..1 Emperor’s Cup by defeating Kyoto Sanga FC 4-2. Second Division FC Tokyo win a spot in the 2012 AFC Champions League.
  • Tim Cahill ends his goal drought after 34 matches (he passed 2011 without any goal, including in Asian Cup) by scoring for Everton against Blackburn Rovers. The match ends 1-1.
  • Arsenal teenage winger Ryo Miyaichi is loaned to Bolton.

February

  • Adelaide United and Pohang Steelers qualify to 2012 AFC Champions League by defeating two Southeast Asian hopefuls – Persipura of Indonesia and Chonburi of Thailand. Buriram of Thailand is the sole SE Asian representative in the ACL. With SE Asian federations underperforming or in legal problems, Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan fill a spot in the East Asian division.
  • Shinji Okazaki scores with a bicycle kick for Stuttgart against Hannover 96.
  • China end hope to qualify to Brazil 2014 despite defeating Jordan 3-1 at home. Its doom had been pronounced in Autumn 2011 thanks to back to back defeats against Iraq and Jordan. The Economist‘s Christmas 2011 edition runs special article on why Chinese football sucks.
  • On the other hand, Asian champions Japan qualify as runner ups without able to defeat Uzbekistan and lost the away match in North Korea, where coach Al Zaccheroni complains that the custom seizes his soy sauce.
  • Still on road to Brazil: demoralized Indonesia are torn apart 0-10 by Bahrain. Bahrain, however, fail to qualify as rival Qatar fight to the end to hold Iran 2-2 and pass the group undefeated. While Indonesia field players only from the official Premier League (leaving veterans playing in the Super League), Bahrain also ban Shiite players from the team.

March

  • North Korea qualify automatically to 2015 AFC Asian Cup after defeating other minnows such as Philippines, Tajikistan, India, and Turkmenistan. At that time NK are ranked 15th in Asia, far above non-Challenge Cup participants such as UAE and Thailand.
  • Woeful year for Japanese powerhouse Gamba Osaka begins as they go down in the ACL to Pohang Steelers 0-3 and to Adelaide United 0-2.
  • Australia end its quest for Olympics gold finishing bottom of Group B without scoring any goal and ended four matches 0-0. The Matildas had failed to qualify in 2011 after falling one point short below North Korea. The duel between Japan and Korea U-23 in London is anticipated.

April

  • Brisbane win the A-League Grand Final due to 90+7th minute penalty kick by Albanian Besart Berisha into Perth Glory’s goal. Man of the match award for Perth’s Jacob Burns is for a while incorrectly awarded to Brisbane winger Thomas Broich.
  • Japan and Korea begin their 2012 league season in the familiar manners – taking in Australians and few Japanese players for the Asian Player spot in Korea, and taking in Koreans and few Australians for the AP spot in Japan – along with South and North Koreans who were born in Japan. Both leagues also use Brazilian players extensively and are still reluctant to draw big names from Europe.
  • No such qualm in China, where Nicolas Anelka, fresh from enjoying a late summer period in Chelsea, moved to Shanghai. In February he scored 40 seconds in the friendly against Hunan. In April the club is in crisis and he becomes player-manager.
  • Meanwhile, Guangzhou Evergrande ace the ACL group stage by defeating ex-champions Jeonbuk Hyundai 5-1 and Kashiwa Reysol 3-1. Except for Gao Lin, however, all the goalscorers are South Americans Cleo, Muriqui, and Dario Conca. Still, credit for their defense team.

May

  • Shinji Kagawa completes his glory in Germany by scoring against Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal final. He scores 13 goals in Bundesliga, 3 in DFB Pokal, and 1 in the Champions League – against Arsenal.
  • Kagawa’s rival Keisuke Honda scores consolation goal against Rubin Kazan. After missing much of the season to injury, Honda fails to help CSKA to qualify for the Champions League as rival Spartak take them over with two points.
  • Tim Cahill ends his career in Everton with a sour note after being sent off for fighting with Yohan Cabaye, who pushed an Everton ball boy.
  • Internazionale signs a loaned player from Cesena, Yuto Nagatomo. Smaller than average (compared to other Japanese players) Nagatomo becomes the most successful player in Serie A in the last five years. He is also the first Japanese player to play in the city of Milan.
  • J. League lose all representatives in the ACL with Nagoya, Kashiwa, and Tokyo all shot down. K-League also only spare Ulsan Hyundai alive, while Guangzhou and Adelaide United stay on course.

June

  • Keisuke Honda returns to Samurai Blue with the goal against Oman and hattrick against Jordan.
  • Big moves for Asian players – Kagawa to Manchester United (where porn star Ameri Ichinose is mistakenly identified as his girlfriend), Hiroshi Kiyotake to Nuremberg, Kim Bo-kyung to Cardiff City, Ki Sung-yueng to Swansea, Maya Yoshida to Southampton, and Eiji Kawashima to Standard Liege.
  • The transfer headline is on Didier Drogba. Fresh after taking Chelsea to become the kings of Europe, money and Anelka lure him to Shanghai. The French star fights with a fan after he refuses to follow the customary bow toward Shanghai’s supporters.

July

  • Controversy in Cardiff after its Malaysian owners change the crest and the home shirt color to conform more with feng shui – from blue and Blue Birds into red and the Welsh red dragon.
  • Another Malaysian-owned team, Queens Park Rangers, also looks forward for a better EPL season. They sign Park Ji-sung (Korea) from Manchester United, Julio Cesar (Brazil) from Internazionale, and Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand) and Junior Hoillet (Canada) from Blackburn Rovers, distinctively becoming probably the only team in the world with players from all confederations. The shirt sponsor is changed from Malaysia Airlines to owner Tony Fernandes’ own Air Asia.
  • Unfortunately, by the end of this year Asians who love Air Asia for their travels are too embarrassed to wear the jersey.
  • More than they wear the MU’s red tartan jersey.
  • Korea and Japan pass Olympics’ group stage in minimalist manners – Korea with 2-1 victory over Switzerland and 0-0s against Gabon and Mexico, while Japan steal headline after defeating gold medal favorite Spain 1-0. The rest is unconvincing – 1-0 to Honduras and 0-0 to Morocco. The women team also draw 0-0 with Sweden and Africa after defeating Canada 2-1.
  • Swiss player Michel Morganella is sent home after sending racist tweets against Koreans. North Korea is also angry as organizer shows their future flag of Taegeukgi in the match against Colombia. Heck, even they complained that there was the flag of Korea in the stadium along with the flag of Cameroon and Sweden. Are they Koreans or not?

August

  • Shinji Kagawa scores his first goal for Manchester United past Asia’s best goalkeeper – Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer.
  • Anelka and Drogba’s partnership in Shanghai result in astonishing 3-3 draw with Shandong Luneng.
  • Arsenal loans number nine forward Park Chu-young to Celta Vigo, sparing him the horror of wearing number 30 after 9 is given to Lukas Podolski.
  • Nadeshiko Japan defeat favorite Brazil 2-0 and France 2-1. Unfortunately they go down to United States 1-2 and get silver medal. Turbine Postdam’s Yuki Ogimi scores three goals.
  • Project Team Great Britain go down in typical English manner – lose penalty shootout in the quarter finals, this time to Korea. Chelsea’s Dean Sturridge fails to score while Korea put five past Jack Butland.
  • Korea win the bronze medal after Park Chu-young and Koo Ja-cheol score against Japan. Defender Park Jong-woo sport a banner written “Dokdo is Ours!” after the match, winning critics outside Korea and praises from Koreans. Since then Korean TVs have gone too hard in putting Dokdo in every context and criticizing celebrities who refuse to join the chorus, especially those who are being popular in Japan.

September

  • Both Korea and Australia are in crisis mode for their World Cup qualification as Uzbekistan hold Korea and Australia’s defeat to Jordan condemn them to zero win from three matches.
  • Park Chu-young becomes the first Korean to score in La Liga against Getafe. Lee Chun-soo was the last Korean to play in La Liga a decade ago.
  • Korean Army team Sangju Sangmu Phoenix walk out from the Relegation round of K-League after AFC requires professional contracts for players in every club. The club serves as a host for players serving their military draft. Even without the drama, SSP are already relegated. Recently some other players prefer to join the Korean Police FC for their national service.
  • The Championship round in K-League is switched from playoff rounds between the top six (Australian style) to the mini league involving top eight teams (Russian style).
  • Both Guangzhou and Adelaide fail their first tests against West Asian teams. Ulsan pass through favorite Al-Hilal 5-0.
  • Consadole Sapporo secure relegation from J-League Division 1 with two months to go.

October

  • Keisuke Honda scores his fifth goal from eleven Russian Premier League matches. He failed to move to Lazio, probably for the better. He might be play in Liverpool next month.
  • Alessandro del Piero moves to Sydney FC, while Western Sydney Wanderers recruit Shinji Ono. Sydney also sign Chinese-Panaman Yairo Yau.
  • Shinji Kagawa provides his second assist in the Champions League and then twists his knee. The injury lasts for two months.
  • For second year in the row, a Hyundai-owned team is in the ACL final after Ulsan defeat glamour-less Bunyodkor. The national team of Uzbekistan keep their hope alive by defeating Qatar 1-0. Korea end 2012 in sour note with 0-1 defeat to Iran.
  • S-League authority announces that in 2013, the team that finishes last will have to pay heavy fine for being a loser, continuing the fine tradition of the fine city.

November

  • A drop of Asian players’ presence in the English Premier League with Kagawa injured, and so does Park Ji-sung, and Southampton’s Tadanari Lee and Sunderland’s Ji Dong-won nowhere in sight. Maya Yoshida passes every match day painfully with Southampton. In Bundesliga, on the other hand, Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, Shinji Okazaki, Hiroshi Kiyotake, and Takashi Inui provide goals and assists now and then.
  • Korea recovers the AFC Champions League trophy as Ulsan defeat Al-Ahli 3-0. Japan defeat Oman 2-1 and need to wait for March 2013 to defeat Jordan to secure a ticket to Brazil 14.
  • Hiroshima win J-League title, breaking the hearts of Sendai. Hisato Sato hopes that he can return to the national team. Al Z’s favorite Ryoichi Maeda continues his Maeda’s Curse by condemning Gamba Osaka to the Second Division, ironically despite Gamba’s 67 goals for compared to Hiroshima’s 63. Gamba’s best hope is to flourish in Division 2 in 2013 and return in 2014.
  • Ian Crook resigns from Sydney FC management. Club’s and fans’ expectation for del Piero is cited as the main reason. Sydney languish at the bottom while uglier sister Western Sydney are in the top four.

December

  • Substitute Brian Ching fails to save Houston Dynamo in the 2012 MLS Cup, a fitting farewell for David Beckham. American soccer is still waiting for its Jeremy Lin.
  • FC Seoul win the 2012 K-League, with Colombian Mauricio Molina providing 18 goals and 19 assists.
  • Australia qualify for 2013 East Asia Football Federation Championship by destroying Taiwan 8-0, scoring five goals in 30 minutes. They win aggregate goals against North Korea.
  • Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore field teams composed of naturalized players in the ASEAN Football Federation Cup. Indonesia lose to Malaysia 0-2 and draw with Laos 1-1, and Indonesian fans treat the news apathetically.
  • FIFA extends its deadline for Indonesian FA to settle its internal dispute for three months, Sepp Blatter gleefully says that he’s giving a holiday gift to Indonesia.
  • The resurgence of Thai football is annulled by Singapore, whose 30+ years old foreigners help the Lions to win the AFF Cup. Singapore’s best players, however, are Shahril Ishkak and Khairul Amri. Both of them play for Singapore LionsXII, a guest team in the Malaysian Super League (and the runner ups of the 2012 season).
  • Ulsan Hyundai become the first Asian team to fail to qualify to FIFA Club World Cup Semi Finals after lost 1-3 to Monterrey. In the fifth place match against Hiroshima, Hisato Sato proves that he’s the better striker than Lee Keun-ho and Kim Shin-wook.
  • Shinji Kagawa win AFC’s first ever “International Player” award, effectively the award for the best Asian player in the world. His competitors are forty years old Mark Schwarzer and Yuto Nagatomo. In Asia, the best player is Lee Keun-ho, and below him are Ali Karimi and Zheng Zhi.
Happy Holidays everyone. Thank you for reading.

The importance of Lee Dong-Gook

내가 제일 잘 나가

I never like a bad boy. Just the nature of a geek who plays by the book. There is, however, a bad boy who I admire. Lee Dong-Gook. On Tuesday he scored twice in injury time to defeat the Manchester City of Asia, Guangzhou Evergrande (which just recruited Lucas Barrios, former team mate of Shinji Kagawa). Now Lee stands as the top scoring Asian in the ACL, along with Al-Hilal’s duo Naif Hazazi and Mohamed Abosaban (and Iranian Arash Borhani). In the K-League, he’s the only Korean and AFC player in the top five of goal scorers. He was the MVP and top scorer of 2011 ACL and the MVP of K-League 2011.

Yet, he does better service to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors than to the national team. Lee has played for Korea since World Cup 1998, and was the top scorer of 2000 Asian Cup (which was rough enough for Korea, finishing third in the group below China and Kuwait, before taking the third place of the tournament), scoring late goals against Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, plus a hattrick against Indonesia. He failed to flourish in Werder Bremen, but scored the winning goal against Chile in the Sydney Olympics. A deep irony since Chile, Spain, and Korea all finished group stage with two wins and one defeat, and Korea had the worst goal difference (due to 0-3 damage done by Spain) while Chile had the best.

Enter Guus Hiddink for the 2002 project and he disliked D.G. He was powerful but was not fast or long-lasting – his assessment after the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Like his Japanese counterpart Takayuki Suzuki, he was seen as a “Lazy Genius” – he had the potential but didn’t work hard for it. So he was not in and Hiddink never regretted the decision, while Troussier was in despair after he omitted Shunsuke Nakamura and Naohiro Takahara was not available. In true bad boy fashion, Dong-Gook spent the glorious Korean summer drinking and tuning out of the tournament.

He got over the bitterness with the national service (Korean celebrities answer the draft when they think they’re over their prime) and returned to Pohang Steelers afterward. He scored goals in all but one Korea’s match in the 2004 Asian Cup, but unfortunately he was out-vicioused (this is not a word) by Ali Karimi who scored three against Korea. He led South Korea to qualify for Germany 2006, but World Cup rejected him again – injury failed him and Korea had to settle for Lee Chun-Soo, Ahn Jung-Hwan, Seol Ki-Hyeon (all veteran of 2002) and the young Christian hope Park Chu-Young.  After they went down to Switzerland, it was clear that Korea needed Lee Dong-Gook.

In his ninth year of service, Lee demonstrated why he was bad. The highlight of his contribution for 2007 Asian Cup was his carousing in Jakarta with unsung K-League hero Woo Sung-Yong and the darling of Muslim fans Lee Woon-Jae. He played for Middlesbrough so he escaped the club ban, but he was so disappointing in England and was remembered as a drunkard. The downfall seemed hard enough that he had to play for Moonie club Seongnam (which is a great club, but you have to pity any sane people who seeks employment there. As for the fans, I just assume that they love the city) and was still a flop.

And yet, Jeonbuk saved him. The credit might go to coach Choi Kang-Hee who wised him up. Right of the bat, he was not only becoming the top scorer of 2009 K-League, but also took Jeonbuk to win the K-League Championship for the first time. He never looked back again in the K-League and the ACL. It was a big disappointment that he failed to win the 2011 Champions League, but then he just recovered from injury.

The question is if Lee Dong-Gook is that good. He finally got his World Cup in 2010, as a sub, and he failed to impress. Added with his bad record in Germany and England, and the answer is he’s not good enough for global competition. But for Asian competition, the 33-year old can be said as the deadliest striker residing in Asia. His closest rival would be Ali Karimi. Joshua Kennedy is yet to shine in the ACL, and J. League clubs hardly have illustrious Japanese forwards in their Asian campaigns (Gamba’s Masato Yamazaki is unemployed – the closest thing to a good Japanese striker is Tokyo’s Kazuma Watanabe).

Lee Dong-Gook flourishes in a tournament where clubs in both West and East Asia are even more depended on South American and African forwards, while their best strikers are studying in Europe. Australia tried to buck this trend with no avail. Even so, he’s successful in both the Korean and the Asian fronts. He’s more than good for both. He’s the best for both leagues. He can’t deliver anymore to the Red Devils, but he deserves to be called a legend for the Mad Green Boys.

Comparing Asian and African progresses: History

Meet you at Moscow

Ah, Asia-Africa. In Japanese geek parlance, it is a bad pairing. It’s bad fan fiction. But Asia-Africa Road (always, always a road) are there in major Indonesian cities. It is the official Indonesian name to what Cold War historians call Bandung Conference. Back in 1955 some Asian states had gained independence while most of sub-Saharan Africa had not. The conference drew on the idea that both continents were victims of colonization and had things in common – dashing nationalist figures and interest for Socialism. The biggest African star at that conference was Egypt.

Enough history, move on to football. The African Cup of Nations. People in Asia don’t really watch it. But people in Asia also do not watch AFC Asian Cup unless their national team is playing. Worse, although people admire and fear Drogba and Kalou, and people did admire Eto’o, it’s hard to find someone in Asia, Australia, and Europe (white people. And not a football geek. And offline) that can name Ghana or Ivory Coast XI. Still, African football attracts positive images of colorful fans, comical goal celebrations, and loud percussion. If television won’t capture the moment, newspapers and their websites will.  Asian football, on the other hand, attracts negative images of clumsy players, weird surnames, boring 1-1 matches, and…wait a minute, why do people tend to forget about Korean hot chicks who wear only red bra and flag sarong? Japanese and Korean supporters also play loud percussion, although the tone is more martial than ….euh….tribal.

Jonathan Wilson’s article on the false sense of African Progress since 1994 inspires me to track Asian performance in World Cup. After North Korea’s legendary 1966 campaign, AFC representatives for the next 15 years would come from the West. First stop, Israel. Yes, Israel is a West Asian country. It qualified after defeating New Zealand (North Korea walked out since it refused to play in Israel) and Australia. In the past AFC and OFC competed for the same ticket, and OFC encompassed some countries with political complications like Taiwan, Rhodesia, and eventually Israel. In Mexico 70, after down to Uruguay, they retained their dignities by holding  Sweden and Italy. Yet Italy survived Group 2, although the draw cost Sweden’s chance.

In 1974, OFC’s Australia defeated South Korea, so no AFC story. 1978, the Kingdom of Iran qualified after topping a mini league where Australia languished and again South Korea failed at the last step. At this time Japan had no interest in football, was crap at football, and even were weaker than Hong Kong. In Argentina, Andranik Eskandarian’s own goal prevented them from scoring a legendary victory against Scotland. They went down to Netherlands (Iran conceded two penalties) and Peru (which also scored twice from penalties. Iran did have terrible defenders, didn’t they?)

1982, Kuwait topped the final round group, while New Zealand represented OFC after won a tie-breaking playoff against China. After holding Czechoslovakia, Kuwait languished against France (1-4) and lost narrowly to England. And what does historians remember? France had one goal disallowed after Sheik Fahid al-Sabah stormed the pitch to protest  after Kuwaiti players said they mistook a whistle from the crowd with the ref’s. Al-Sabah was just fined, but Soviet referee Miroslav Stupar was demoted. Even when I was a baby, West Asian football had become some sore loser.

1986, finally the East Asian moment arrived. East Asia and West Asia were divided into two conferences with a guaranteed ticket for each of conference winner. Iraq survived thrilling semi-finals against UAE before defeated Syria to qualify, while Iran were disqualified after refusing to play Bahrain. In the East, Japan finally took football seriously and defeated Hong Kong. In final round, South Korea awaited. Oh, what a joy for the Koreans.

In Mexico, South Korea would be acquainted with the “oh-so-near” tragedies that will haunt it for many, many World Cups. After went down to Argentina and held Bulgaria, it would have held Italy had not for Cho Kwang-Rae’s own goal. After restart, Huh Jung-Moo immediately scored to undo the damage, but the 2-3 scoreline remained, although those 7 minutes would have been heart stopping for so many Italians. Huh would become a successful national coach in 2010 while Cho became his disgraced successor, fired after South Korea lost to Lebanon. Iraq, on the other hand, became the first Asian team to lose all group matches since South Korea in 1954.

In 1990, South Korea and UAE topped the final round and both of them were so terrible it was embarrassing. Especially for UAE which conceded 11 goals. In 1994, Korean-Americans flocked to watch South Korea while Saudi Arabia became a moderate source of pride for Arab-Americans and were dubbed as “the Asian Brazil”. After a great 2-2 comeback against Spain (Hong Myung-Bo and Seo Jung-Won scored in the last five minutes), Korea took one draw too many after failed to score against Bolivia. They scored twice after trailing 0-3 to Germany in the first half…and it was not enough since Spain defeated Bolivia soundly. Saudi Arabia lived up to its bill, leading 1-0 against Netherlands in the first half before lost 1-2, defeated Morocco (first Asian victory since 66, and the beginning of Asian winning records against Africa in World Cup – take that!) and the legendary 1-0 victory over Belgium (sorry, no video link. I don’t like Saudi Arabia enough). Sweden stopped them in the second round. O yeah, that was also the day when World Cup started to be cruel at Belgium. Washington, 29 June 1994.

Japan finally qualified to the World Cup through  the hard way – extra time goal in a playoff against Iran, after a very unconvincing campaign (four draws out of eight matches). Even until today some South Koreans say that Japan defeated South Korea in Seoul because South Korea gave the game away for the sake of diplomacy and to save the 2002 co-host’s face. South Korea and Saudi Arabia aced their respective groups, while Iran qualified after giving Australia its Agony of Doha (nobody ever says Agony of Melbourne, anyway).

In France 98, again Asia demonstrated that it was the weakest region (people for some reason have better respect to Australia and NZ). Saudi Arabia did hold South Africa, which post-apartheid team was supposedly a growing power in the mid 1990s,  illustrious Korean coach Cha Bum-Kun was fired after 0-5 defeat to Holland, and ironically Korea held Belgium 1-1 under interim coach, Iran got its coveted victory against Evil Empire, uh, Great Satan United States, so defeats to Germany and Yugoslavia did not matter, and Japan were always lost narrowly. Lost narrowly to Argentina under Batistuta and to Croatia under Suker. And lost narrowly even to Jamaica.

Which such results, how could Asia hope to hold the World Cup? By giving East Asia a big pride. 2002 was a year of dyeing your hair brown and watching Taiwanese and Korean soap operas (Meteor Garden and Winter Sonata) while listening to Japanese pop (Utada Hikaru and Ayumi Hamasaki were big stars with unfortunately no rivalry between them, BoA and Mika Nakashima were debuting). All of the sudden, South Korea won its first World Cup, defeating Poland 2-0, while Japan failed to defeat Belgium. No such joy for Saudi Arabia and China – which scored no goal and received average of 10 goals between them. Japan finally scored its first win against its favorite white victim, Russia; while Korea thought that draw with United States was enough to payback its speed skating grudge against Japanese-American skater Apollo Ohno. Japan defeated Tunisia while Korea blew the predictions by defeating favorite Portugal. Going to the playoff rounds, it became nasty and controversial for Korea – extra time victory to Italy and penalty shootout win against Spain, all against accusations of foul plays. South Koreans, however, have learned to love the marriage of pop culture with nationalism and just said that the outside world were just jealous. Germany stopped their path to the final before Korean defense became the recipient of the fastest goal ever. Still, no grudge for the Turks and even it was the beginning of a partnership – South Korea sent its B-Team players (from Lee Eul-Yong to Shin Young-Rok) to the Turkish League, while Turkish coach Senol Gunes helped the development of Korean football. O yeah, Turkey also defeated a plucky Japanese side, a sour ending note for Philippe Troussier.

2006 World Cup was really bad for Asians excluding South Korea. Iran couldn’t make a suprise, Japan was so shameful (nevermind Australia’s triple goals – how could Yanagisawa missed Croatia’s open goal? How could Oguro be that impotent?), Saudi Arabia realized that its 2002 disaster was there to stick. South Korea prolonged Asia > Africa record against Togo, and held France with one good break despite being overpowered. Again, they blew it at the last moment  – lost to Switzerland. That’s why in 2010 Asians bar North Korea were so surprising. Although South Korea came close to blow it out again had Nigeria used their chances well – there was a good chance that Nigeria could win 3-2 to score the first ever African victory over Asia. Japan were ready to accept its fate as losers, but Keisuke Honda beat the expectations, humiliated Eto’o, and later the Danes. Both Honda and Endo were also among the first players to be able to score from free kick in the tournament. Australia were surprising in term that they failed to pass the group and lost badly to Germany, despite came close to take the lead very early.

My, while Jonathan Wilson could summarize Africa’s glory and fall in seven paragraphs, I charted everything that happened since 1970. Alright, we stop it right there for today with this lesson – just like Asia is yet to defeat South America in World Cup, the same thing happens for the Africans – Asians are their nemesis.

Asian Cup 2011 – Report Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Korean stuff

First, Naohiro Takahara joins troubled Samsung team Suwon Bluewings. Although South Korean clubs dominate AFC Champions League, so few Japanese play there – and like Takahara, they are seen as have-been. This is the opposite to J. League, where famous Korean players like Lee Jung-Soo and Cho Jae-Jin flourish. Perhaps it’s the salary or the market.

Suwon continues to struggle in the lower mid table with 1-1 draw against Asian champion Pohang yesterday. It is worse for Pohang, however, now that they are in the 12th place.

Cho Kwang-Rae, the new Korean (I’m sorry, despite they are in the World Cup I can’t see myself speaking much about North Korea) coach is already unsettling with his comment that ‘Korea has to be more like Spain’. This is a typical Asian bad habit – saying we have to be like this or that Western country (or a more developed Asian nation) and then don’t really understand their essence.  Spain is Spain. If he wants short pass, personal skill, tight defense, good goalkeeping, than that’s generally what’s a good team about, Spain or not.

Lee CY prefers to stay with Bolton rather than moving to Liverpool. Not just loyalty, but certainly he’s worried Liverpool can damage his career like it has done to numerous Italians, Argentinians, and Spaniards.

To other news:

Australian Danny Allsopp scores a hattrick in DC United’s destruction of Portsmouth. It completed Portsmouth’s nightmare of having their kits missing and traveling from Edmonton, Canada, to Washington DC for 28 hours.

The big fours of Indonesian League – Persipura, Persik, Arema Malang, and Sriwijaya FC are in the 2009-10 Indonesian Cup Semi-Finals.

Asia’s tops of the tables for this week:

China: Shanghai Shenghua. Top scorer Dubier Riascos from Colombia scored a goal in their 2-0 victory against Qingdao.

Japan: Kashima Antlers. After the World Cup the defending champions have returned, overtaken Josh Kennedy’s Nagoya Grampus & Shinji Okazaki’s Shimizu.

Korea: Jeju United. The Cinderella fairy tale continues for the island team after coming from behind against Incheon Utd. and won 3-2.

Singapore: Tampines Rovers. 1-0 victory against Albirex Niigata S last Wednesday, goal by Alex Duric. Tampines have three players in the top ten scorers (the two others are Qiu Li and Khairul Amri).

Welcome to Asia Football

Hello reader,

I hope you enjoy the current World Cup and share my fascination with the performance of Japan and South Korea. I followed the tournament as a member of Guardian Football Fans Network and had so much fun supporting South Korea and Japan.

The problem was, I was the only East Asian in the group, and specifically the only Chinese. I’ve had this situation many times before – in university, courses, writers festival, etc. And I felt ashamed that I could see Australians, British, and Americans heartily supporting Japan and South Korea (or at least praising their performances), still not many Indonesians feel the same way.

Many Asians still much interested in the gambling (not betting) aspect of watching football, and have little faith in Asian footballers compared to say, Brazilians or Africans. Such a pity because even in contemporary FIFA Club World Cup editions, AFC clubs from Japan and South Korea consistently are in the third place. And every year, pundits across the world are easily awed by African and CONCACAF clubs and have no second thought on the Asian club.

So this blog is about that. It’s about news, opinion, and comments on Asian Football, with focus on the East – Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, and Australia.  Second, this blog is about Asian footballers playing outside their home leagues – in Scotland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, U.S., and Australia.

So, this is the first step walked. With the 2010/2011 seasons in Europe and Australia kicked off, and J. League and K-League will resume, you should have plenty of materials to read. Cheers.