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.

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.]

 

Asian Champions League 2013 – after Matchday 4

Since I don't post pictures of Socceroos often.

Since I don’t post pictures of Socceroos often.

North Korea. What about ’em, eh? Making Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese forget to hate each other? Imagine how dreadful it is for Japanese teams and supporters to make away trips to China and Korea. But well, in the current vicious (by 21st century standard) stadium atmosphere in Europe, thank the Lord any spat between a Korean and a Japanese on the pitch can be solved by a double yellow card. The last time Japanese players had laser beam pointed at them was in Jordan (still, no excuse for me to miss my penalty kick, said Yasuhiro Endo).

The amount of Korean and Australian…and even Japanese…players in Gulf/Red Sea clubs has attracted my attention. Kwak Tae-hwi (formerly Ulsan) in Al-Shabab Riyadh. Go Seul-ki (formerly Ulsan) in El Jaish Doha. Shin Hyung-min (formerly Pohang) in Al Jazira Abu Dhabi. Nam Tae-hee (formerly Valenciennes) in Lekhwiya Doha. Mark Bresciano and Harry Kewell in Al Gharafa Doha. Takayuki Morimoto in Al Nasr Dubai. Alex Brosque in Al Ain. And Yoo Byung-soo in Al Hilal.

Which should make watching the AFC Champions League less stressful than used to be. In the end a Korean will still lift a trophy. Of course, it’s not always painless, as experienced by Lee Jung-soo when he, uhm, disagreed with his club’s gameplay against Suwon in 2011. Now he’s still in Al Sadd since the other option was worse – Guangzhou Evergrande.

Al-Shabab Riyadh: Passed Group A. Kwak Tae-hwi is a starter and played full time in all the four matches.

El Jaish: Runner ups of Group A with Iran’s Tractor Sazi on their tails. Go Seul-Ki performed quite poorly – subbed out twice and was also receiving yellow cards twice.

Al Jazira: On the verge of going out, almost. Two draws and two losses. Shin Hyung-min played in all matches.

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Lekhwiya: Tight race with Pakhatkor. Nam Tae-hee has scored six goals in the league (his best record), but yet to score in Asia. A starter who is consistently subbed out.

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Al Gharafa: Trying to keep up with the dominating Al-Ahli, although they are blessed with the unexpected terrible performance of Sepahan. Mark Bresciano has played twice in the competition, while Harry hasn’t (can he, legally?)

Al Nasr: Already out with four losses. In the team, Morimoto faces tough competitions from Bruno Correa (ex-Sepahan and Incheon) and locals Humain Abdulla Abbas, Hassan Mohamed, and Younis Ahmad. Goes without saying that Al Nasr’s main forward is Giuseppe Mascara. Here’s the twist – Morimoto has scored three times in Asia, in the playoff against Lokomotiv Tashkent, and then in losses to Al Ahli and Al Gharafa. League-wise, his kill rate is five goals out of seven games.

Wish list: That FIFA 14 features UEA Pro League

Wish: That FIFA 14 features UEA Pro League

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Al Ain: Neck to neck to championship’s regular Al Hilal, and still can overtake Esteghlal. Alex Brosque is enjoying stable position as wingman to Asamoah Gyan and has scored two goals – but not against Esteghlal.

Al Hilal: The only reason I’m glad there’s Saudi League in FIFA 13. The only team capable to bring 50 thousand spectators into an ACL match. Yoo Byung-soo seems to be a sub option behind veteran Yasser Al Qahtani and Wesley, and he’s yet to make a mark as a super sub after coming out from the bench three times.

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FC Seoul: Top performers from Korea with patchy records (two wins, a draw, a loss). Cha Du-ri is now a seat warmer, Mauricio Molina is showing his age, and Japanese Sergio Escudero is settling quite well. The team rely on Dejan Damjanovic, Ha Dae-sung, and Adilson.

Buriram United: The rise of Southeast Asian football? They hold themselves quite well and are having a Mexican standoff with Sendai, which they held 1-1 in the cold north. Defenders Charyl Chappuis is the first half-Westerner Thai footballer and he plays well. And try to pronounce this Swiss sub – Chitchanok Xaysensourithone.

Vegalta Sendai: Qualification to playoff still not sure, but respect should always be given to these brave men. The goalscorers (three so far, same with Buriram) are the club’s most recognizable name – North Korean Ryang Yong-gi, Wilson, and 35 year old Atsushi Yanagisawa. Shingo Akamine is yet to show his magic this season.

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Guangzhou Evergrande: You know they are at it again. The big question is can they reach the semi-finals. Huang Bowen is back in China and Dario Conca is still probably the best number 10 in Asia (well he’s number 15). Muriqui is the current top scorer in Asia, while in China he is challenged by Guangzhou midfielder Elkeson (not playing in ACL). Lucas Barrios, who could become a flop in China, has scored against Urawa Reds.

Jeonbuk: One win, three draws. Bad records for Jeonbuk. Especially their defense. Choi Eun-seong doesn’t only look old – he’s 42. Central Coast alumni Alex Wilkinson is still settling in. Jeonbuk are supposedly to be scary with Eninho, Kim Jung-woo, Kevin Oris, and Lee Dong-gook. They should have been.

Urawa Reds: The most popular clubs in Japan are back, in regular shape – battered and bruised. 21 year old Genki Haraguchi is striving to graduate into Samurai Blue, while Shinzo Koroki is drifting away from chance to wear the national jersey. They will not pass the group stage. Hopefully Haraguchi can play in Europe in three years time.

Muangthong United: Well, they do what they can. And yet with a point, they still have chance to qualify, due to Jeonbuk’s disappointing form.

Genki desu ka? Hai, genki desu.

Genki desu ka? Hai, genki desu.

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Pohang Steelers: Same with Jeonbuk – one win and three draws. They are all-Korean this year, without any famous name. Surprisingly, they are doing well in the league, thanks to midfielders Cho Chan-ho, Lee Myeong-ju, and Hwang Jin-sung. Hwang Sun-hong legend in the making will depend on how they add up against Beijing, but certainly Hiroshima are no threat for them.

Beijing Gouan: They have Frederic Kanoute.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima: Turned out Hiroshima are not Asia-ready. Shusaku Nishikawa still have far to go before he can challenge Eiji Kawashima, and Mihael Mikic is never good enough. The biggest problem with Hisato Sato is that he seems to score only against Japanese keepers – a good argument against his return into the national team. And yes, I remember that he scored three goals in last year’s Club World Cup. Once against Al Ahly and twice to…Urawa. Well.

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Kashiwa Reysol: I thought that Yokohama Marinos deserved the Emperor Cup better. I take it back. Their Brazilian spice still kicks. This time it’s Cleo, who played for Evergrande, and old timer Leandro Domingues. This is also a great springtime for Masato Kudo.

Central Coast Mariners: Another bad year for Australian football, with Kewell rather be unemployed than playing in the A-League. There are, however, glimmer of hopes for the Socceroos from Matthew Ryan and Mitchell “Duke” Duke.

Suwon Bluewings: High maintenance, low returns. Three 0-0 matches. With Jung Sung-ryong, Eddy Bosnar, Kwak Hee-ju, Kim Do-heon, Oh Jang-eun, Jong Tae-se, Stevica Ristic, and Dzenan Radoncic, Suwon still don’t know how to win. A failed Samsung product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 ACL: Still no sunshine for SE Asian football

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

This is What Happened

The last time I posted was in St. Valentine’s Day. That’s clue #1. Between that night and tonight, there have been lot of things going on. The first was the tragedy that hit Japan. It froze Japanese football for a while, but overall it’s been a meaningful and fruitful year for Japanese football. J. League legends returned for charity match against the national team, where Shinji Okazaki met Kazu Miura.

Summer…my, what a summer. Japan won the FIFA Women’s World Cup. I stayed on ESPN SportCenter every night just to see glimpses of how did the Nadeshiko go. Nobody outside Japan really paid attention, but well, even in Europe women football is also seen with a chuckle.  So the men won the Asian Cup against a re-surging Australia, and the women won against heavy favorites such as Germany and United States (unfortunately Eurosport Asia didn’t broadcast the tournament and the only match I followed through Guardian Football was Japan v England :p.

Australia unfortunately didn’t get to replace Japan in Copa America. Well, they share longitudes and DVD region, Australia sees its football team as rival to Uruguay, and I really want to see how do Australia fare in South America (this calls for a FIFA 12 tournament).

Highlight for this year is the 2014 World Cup Qualifications. I was happy that three Southeast Asian teams made it to the group stage, including Singapore and Indonesia :). Yeah they will last at the bottom, where their current strengths are, compared to Middle Eastern sides (but wehey, here’s Thailand at second place! Being in a group with Saudi Arabia is a true blessing!). The next two games are coming soon.

The bad side of missing out for 9 months (really, a friend has given birth during that gap) is that I’ve missed out most of J. League. The report and review, that is. My cable provides two live matches every weekend with a Singaporean highlight program in mid-week. So I know my Havenaar and tidy-cut Kennedy. Unfortunately KBS World doesn’t broadcast K-League, which is now in the championship phase. Jeonbuk Motors really earn my respect this year.

As for ACL…nobody really watches it, isn’t it? Another forgettable year for Japan, and since THAT incident in Suwon, now I’m really hating West Asian football. Good call for Lee Young-Pyo to leave the Saudi League. As for Lee Jung-Soo, well, he has to work somewhere and he’s good.

As for Asian players in Europe…well, not a big breakthrough as last year was. Kagawa still does great jobs with assists but not scoring, Honda and Lee Chung-Yong are sidelined for months. Okazaki is still finding form. Park Chu-Young should have stayed with Lille.  Morimoto starts to fall out with Novara (which is much better town than Catania). Even Tim Cahill doesn’t score anymore.  In short, no Asian player yet to make into the top scorers roll in various European leagues. On the good sides, many of them are now regular starters – Koo, Ki, Kawashima, Yoshida, and Hasebe to name a few.

So, I’m back to blog. The pleasure of seeing Asian players contributing to victories, the pleasure of seeing Japan and South Korea being victorious, the pleasure of reporting their matches, and the pleasure of seeing passionate and orderly Asian female fans (n/a in West Asia) keep me coming back.

Coming up: J. League final rounds, AFC Champions League final, K-League Championship round, the A-League, FIFA World Cup Qualifications, Olympics qualifications, Southeast Asian Games (no women football, bummer), and the FIFA Club World Cup. And the Indonesian League that will eventually come.

Asia Football Update – Korea is Still the Best. And so does Shinji Kagawa.

When South Korea put in four teams into the quarter finals of AFC Champions League, the prospect of all-Korean final was bright. Then three teams were shot down spectacularly, and after defeating Bunyodkor and former champions Pohang Steelers and Al-Hilal, Zob Ahan have become a new favorite. It was unbeaten in the playoff round, while Seongnam suffered losses from Suwon and Al-Shabab.

And then, Seongnam returned to its persistent and aggressive play, despite without Dzenan Radoncic. Hulking Australian defender Sasa Ognenovski fought his way through a scrimmage, and international defender Cho Byung-Kuk scored from a corner. Zob Ahan fought back through Mohammad Khalatbari’s header, but substitute Kim Cheol-Ho lifted the thriller in the 83th minute.  Mauricio Molina failed to get two extra goals that would place him as the top scorer (the award goes to Jose Mota of Suwon), but Sasa got the Best Player award.  East Asia has won the cup for the fifth year in the row, and the K-League has demonstrated its superiority over the J. League, Australia’s A-League, and Chinese Super League – at least for this season.

J. League

Time is running out for Kashima Antlers to chase Nagoya. Nagoya defeated Omiya 2-1, while veteran players Koji Nakata and Mitsuo Ogasawara (remember Japan/Korea 2002?) took Kashima to victory over Kawasaki, which got the early lead through Vitor Junior. Gamba Osaka defeated Hiroshima 2-0 through Lee Keun-Ho and Lucas, while Cerezo failed to catch up with its rival after being held by Yamagata 3-3. Shimizu overcame its bad form with decisive 5-0 thumping of Shonan Bellmare. The goalscorers were all-stars cast of Shinji Ono, Frode Johnsen, Jungo Fujimoto, and Shinji Okazaki.

 

China

The 2010 season is over.  Shandong ended the last round by hammering Shanghai 5-2, with Han Peng’s hattrick is supposedly to ensure his entry into the Asian Cup starting eleven. Dubier Riascos, however, still managed to score a penalty kick to secure his goal tally against Shandong, and Shanghai is still qualify for the 2011 ACL. Despite Ryan Griffiths single goal against Jiangsu, Beijing failed to overtake Shanghai and to qualify for Asia. Tianjin and Hangzhou are also going to Asia with 1-0 wins over Henan and Qiangdao respectively.

 

Australia

Who is Kosta Barbarouses? This Greek-New Zealander guaranteed another smiling week for Brisbane as Roars defeated Melbourne Heart 2-1, despite Gerald Sibon’s early goal. Barbarouses has appeared in all All Whites team since sixteen years old and have scored six goals since his debut in the A-League.  Number two Adelaide suffered to unexpected defeat in the hand of Newcastle 1-3, with a double from Marko Jesic. A product of Cool Britain, Robbie Fowler, scored a hattrick for Perth against Melbourne Victory (which got one back through Diogo Ferreira). Newcastle will face a tough test this Wednesday against Brisbane.

 

Indonesia

Persebaya Surabaya, a former giant of Indonesian football currently in the second division, held a charity match against a team of Dutch-Indonesian semi-pros – and lost 1-2. The match was held to promote the Indonesian Premier League, an opposition league designed to challenge the official Indonesian Super League.  The Indonesian Football Association complained to AFC and FIFA about the employment of Egyptian referee during the charity match.

A growing numbers of fans have no problem with the Premier League as they believe the FA is utterly incompetent in managing the national team. Indonesia canceled friendlies against Hong Kong and Philippines due to the explosion of Merapi volcano in southern Central Java, which ash fallout reached West Java. It was not the FA’s fault, but fans have contrasted the cancellation with the IPL’s success in inviting some Dutch (which again, are mercenaries who didn’t complain much about personal safety).

Overseas

Right, Shinji Kagawa. He is going to Barcelona, isn’t he? Maybe. Certainly clubs west of Germany and south of Netherlands are interested in this young Japanese, which scored again for Dortmund. Still, pundits agree that it’s better for Kagawa to finish this season with Dortmund – taking them to win the Bundesliga, the DFB Pok…(uh, they lost to Kickers Offenbach), and the Europa League (trailing behind PSG and Sevilla). Kagawa’s good, but there’s still Grafite, Gekas, and Gomez to overcome. And there’s still Blue Samurai in Qatar, hoping to win the AFC Asian Cup.

Tim Cahill scored again in the last minute, this time against Arsenal. Unfortunately, that was Everton’s only goal.

Two more games in the Russian Premier League, and Zenit St. Petersburg have become champions. Keisuke Honda’s CSKA Moscow still have Rubin Kazan breathing on their neck. Will Honda move westward in January?

A Japanese player, Kosuke Kimura, who has lived in United States since he was 19, took Colorado Rapids to the MLS Cup final after scoring against San Jose Earthquakes.

 

Asian Games

Bye-bye for host China in the Men’s Asian Games, after going down to a reinforced South Korea. World Cup veterans Park Chu-Young, Kim Jung-Woo, and Cho Young-Cheol showed Chinese goalkeeper Wang Dalei that it was alright to be angry (why does the link still have many ‘Asians eat dog’ comments?).  Hong Kong’s great performance (draw against UAE and wins over Uzbekistan and Bangladesh) ended after Oman beat them 3-0, while Iran’s quest for the gold continues after overcoming Malaysia 3-1. Uzbekistan bounced back by defeating Qatar and will challenge South Korea in the quarter finals.