Which A-League Team to Support?

Australia FlagIt’s about a week before I’m entering my second season of teaching. Currently there are more than a dozen Indonesian youth braving Perth winter mornings (not that severe, I suppose, ah, 5C/41F). Some of them follow football, but the European kind as always.

I really admire Westerners who ask “which team to support?” when they are moving overseas. While Asian students and expats can be aware of the local football scene (more on the students than the expats), and might be even supporting the national team, I’d like to spend sometime giving the outline of A-League teams playing in the upcoming season, in case a newly arrived visitor to Australia wants to indulge in the local sport spectacle. Believe me, it’s easier to follow than trying to understand Australian Football or forms of rugby.

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Adelaide United

Stadium: Coopers Stadium, Hindmarsh. Accessible through Adelaide Metro tram (Entertainment Centre) and train (Bowden).

Shirt: Kappa

Shirt sponsor: Solarshop solar power provider

Star players: Eugene Galekovic (GK), Jonathan McKain (DF), Dario Vidosic (MF), Bruce Djite (FW)

Outlook: A regular of AFC Champions League, they were the first Australia’s representatives after Australia entered AFC and reached the 2008 finals. Despite losing to Gamba Osaka, they represented Asia in the 2008 Club World Cup and defeated African champions Al-Ahly 1-0. Last year they failed to overcome Bunyodkor.

Niche: Adelaide is still not a favorite for international students (and business expats) and many students there come on scholarship rather than by personal preference. Still, if you like to go off the beaten path, leaving somewhere more affordable and peaceful (with the conveniences of a capital city), having a strong hometown team is an extra.

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Brisbane Roar

Stadium: Suncorp Stadium, Milton. Accessible through Citytrain (Milton and Roma Street stations) and 375 and 385 buses.

Shirt: Puma

Shirt sponsor: The Coffee Club cafe chain

Star players: Matt Smith (DF), Jade North (DF), Liam Miller (Ireland, MF), Besart Berisha (Albania, FW)

Outlook: Founded by Dutch community in Brisbane and owned by Indonesian corporation Bakrie Group, Roar were known as Queensland Roar before the 2009-10 season. In the following season, they won the A-League title with 28 matches undefeated – and became the first A-League team to defend the title. Bundesliga alumni Besart Berisha is the most feared forward in Australia.

Niche: Brisbane, and Queensland is still a hip market in Australia – not many people go there, but those who do enjoy the sun and the tropical climate. Brisbane itself is a favorite for Japanese and Taiwanese students and expats.

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Central Coast Mariners

Stadium: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford. Accessible by CityRail and RailCorp lines from Sydney.

Shirt: Kappa

Shirt sponsors: Masterfoods food products

Star players: John Hutchinson (Malta, MF), Michael McGlinchey (NZ, MF), Mile Sterjovski (FW)

Outlook: Now this is a team that punch above their weight. Currently they are the defending champions and yet they are yet to have someone wearing number 1, 9, 10, and 11. The senior squad has only one listed goalkeeper. Yet they survived the 2013 ACL group stage and defeated Guizhou and Suwon Bluewings.

Niche: Gosford is 76 km away from Sydney and is considered as a satellite town of Sydney, the third largest urban area in New South Wales after Newcastle. Students are unlikely to live here, although those who choose to stay in Australia might by chance and choice opt to live a beach life here.

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Melbourne Heart

Stadium: AAMI Park, Melbourne.

Shirt: Kappa

Shirt sponsor: Westpac bank

Star players: Patrick Gerhardt (Liberia, DF), Harry Kewell (MF)

Overview: The second team in Melbourne, their name of choice is based on newspaper poll, and had some controversy due to objection from the Australian Football League authority (over who owns the term ‘football club’) as well as from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, which holds the annual Heart of Melbourne Appeal. Naturally bad blood rivalry brews with the older Melbourne Victory.

Niche: As far as I know, there is no geographical division between Heart & Victory supporters (there is big difference between the working-class northwest Melbourne and the middle class southeast Melbourne) as both teams play in the city. Heart, however, practice in the working class La Trobe University (and my alma mater).

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Melbourne Victory

Stadium: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne Docklands

Shirt: Adidas

Shirt sponsor: Adecco human resources

Star players: Adrian Leijer (DF), Mark Milligan (MF), Jonathan Bru (Mauritius, MF), Archie Thompson (FW)

Outlook: Okay, I get it. Victory have the signs of the richer team – more stars, glamorous sponsors, and even the stadium is located in the controversial Docklands area – a Melbourne attempt to build a glitzy waterfront. So Victory might be more suitable for Asian students who are into style.

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Newcastle Jets

Stadium: Hunter Stadium, New Lambton, Newcastle. Accessible by train (Adamstown)

Shirt: ISC, an Australian brand more popular with Australian Football and English Rugby clubs.

Shirt sponsor: Hunter Ports

Star players: Ruben Zadkovich (MF), Emile Heskey (England, FW), Michael Bridges (England, FW)

Outlook: The club’s name and logo (depicting three F/A-18 Hornets) come from its proximity to the Williamtown Air Force base, and Newcastle naturally struggle seasons after seasons.

Niche: The University of Newcastle is popular for Asian students, hosting about 7,000 students out of 80 countries, in a town populated by 300 thousands. If you want to live in NSW and Sydney’s too crowded and expensive, try Newcastle.

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Perth Glory

Stadium: NIB Stadium, Perth

Shirt: Macron

Shirt sponsor: QBE Insurance

Star players: Michael Thwaite (DF), Jacob Burns (MF), Travis Dodd (MF), Shane Smeltz (New Zealand, FW)

Outlook: Like Perth, this is the only major thing available on the west side of the continent. Shane Smeltz is the deadliest striker in Oceania.

Niche: Perth is pretty popular with Asian students due to its proximity and time difference. Its unfortunate geographic location, however, prevents it from becoming bigger and more popular. Still, like other Australian major cities, it’s still among the world’s finest.

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Sydney FC

Stadium: Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Shirt: Adidas

Shirt sponsor: Webjet online travel agent

Star players: Brett Emerton (MF), Terry McFlynn (N. Ireland, MF), Ali Abbas (MF), Alessandro del Piero (Italy, FW)

Outlook: Sydney FC fashion itself as the elite club of Australia, at least by style. It signed past stars such as Kazu Miura and Dwight Yorke, and del Piero is playing his second season here. While they have won the A-League twice, they are yet to be successful in the Asian Champions League. While in 2007 they were second in the group E, unfortunately only group winners passed and that was Urawa Red Diamonds.

Niche: Sydney is the “most Asian” city in Australia, with 20% of the city population can be identified as having South, Southeast, or East Asian background.

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Wellington Phoenix

Stadium: Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Shirt: Nike

Shirt sponsor: Sony electronics

Star players: Glen Moss (GK), Leo Bertos (MF), Paul Ifill (Barbados, MF), Stein Huysegems (Belgium, FW)

Outlook: A New Zealand club who join the A-League, to the past protest (and threat) of AFC. Consequently, they cannot compete in the AFC Champions League. In some seasons, Phoenix can be very strong because they are composed of New Zealand national players, but that was not the case last season.

Niche: If you happen to live in Wellington (instead of Auckland), well, you have a spectacle.

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Western Sydney Wanderers

Stadium: Parramatta Stadium, Parramatta. Accessible through CityRail

Shirt: Nike

Shirt sponsor: NRMA Insurance

Star players: Ante Covic (GK), Michael Beauchamp (DF), Shinji Ono (Japan, MF), Aaron Mooy (FW)

Outlook: The geographical division is clear. Western Sydney is proud of its working class background against the richest city in Australia, and against the richest club in the A-League.The name Wanderers is not modeled after typical English football clubs, but after the name of one of the earliest football club in Australia.

The debutant shook the league last season by winning the regular season and recorded ten winning streaks, and gaining rights to compete in 2014 AFC Champions League. The new club does not only demonstrates the coaching skill of ex-Socceroo Tony Popovic, but also resurrects the career of Shinji Ono, who scored seven goals and provided three assists last season.

Niche: Last season Western Sydney Wanderers was my favorite A-League team. Seems strange but they have Shinji Ono, and then I read that Parramatta is growing fast to become an Asian (and Middle Eastern) area.

So here’s the overlook to 2013-14 A-League teams (10 of them, thank God). If you’re a foreigner in Australia, hope you’re interested to take a look at the local league. I know that it’s more likely that my Asian readers, for a funny but good reason, study in Australia instead of Japan or Korea.

This is a sponsored post but opinions are my own.

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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.

Are you watching continental cups?

One plays for Socceroos and the other plays for Suc…aw I cannot say it.

No.

Okay, I watched them. Arema (IPL faction, not the ISL faction. It’s a long story) versus Al Ettifaq. The lights in the Indonesian stadium got busted in the second half for about 10 minutes. At restart, Ettifaq scored two. Then the lights in my house got out for about 30 minutes. Thank God for modern gadgets and their LEDs.

Then Adelaide – Bunyodkor. I watched it. Ulsan – Al Hilal. I watched it. Damn, Al Ittihad – Guangzhou Evergrande. I watched it to the point I was too tired to see Manchester United – Galatasaray. Great assist Shinji, good night.

Of course, the continental cups in Asia have had their appeals even degraded. It’s never exciting in the first place. I want to see it to be exciting. But the lifeline of international football in Southeast Asia, ESPN and Star Sports, blessed them for still broadcasting Champions League and continental tournaments, show very budget and plastic presentation of the ACL. No studio preview, no half time analysis, no post match review. Because they are right, not many people in the region are like me. At least in local TVs, which show Indonesian teams playing in the AFC Cup, there’s that package of preview – half time – post match. Yes, it’s unfair – we always make fun of our pundits and reach for the mute button, but admit it, their suits or polo shirts and bar make us feeling not lonely and ridiculous.

Of course it’s also lonely at the stadium. At least the Hindmarsh Stadium or Ulsan Munsu Stadium isn’t as deserted as a typical S-League or Hong Kong First Division match, but it’s empty. The Ultras – Australians and Koreans they are, flock in in their hundreds – fat Irish or Greeks with their beer and meat pie, and skinny or flabby bespectacled Koreans with their chicken wings and glass noodle. Boy are their teams gonna be deafened by roars of dozen of thousands Saudi men when they set feet on Riyadh or Jeddah.

And finally, the teams. The fallout of K-League corruption scandal might explain why only Ulsan survived Round of 16, er, the group stage. Actually I was bit confused when Seongnam lost to Bunyodkor. A club belongs to a cult worse than Scientology or a club belongs to a kleptomaniac princess? Hmm…okay, I got sad Seongnam lost. And remember that I got peppy that J. League clubs were all in (except Gamba, but why should I remember that)? All were destroyed.

But again, look at the bright side. It’s indie. You get Adelaide, which got in through play-off, which were so bad in the last season’s A-League, but they are here. Is there a better time for Australia to win the ACL? Guangzhou – would they show that surge of big money will also work in Asia like it had worked in England, and might be brewing in Russia and Europe?
Can Ulsan continue the tradition of K-League to become the best in Asia? And from the west, you get the old guards – Al Hilal, Sepahan, and Al Ittihad.

Oh look, Adelaide scored! And again! Hooray. Go Australia! Oh look, they conceded a goal. And another one! At home! Without David Carney playing in the op-for! Can van Dijk leave for Indonesia now? And hoping he’ll eventually get the cap for the Garudas? Because Cristian Gonzalez said he’s frustrated now. Hey look, Indonesia just cancelled friendly match with Vietnam, saying they’re looking for an easier opponent for the sake of morale. Like Brunei.*cough* DPMM FC *cough*

The universe is bit easy on me for this week (kinda) since there’s a parallel between results of this week’s UEFA Champions League and the AFC Champions League. Al Ittihad v Guangzhou – Real Madrid v Manchester City. The new flashy pretender is put down by the old timer despite shocking leads. Ulsan v Al Hilal – Manchester United v Galatasaray. 1-0 at home despite playing badly against a superior opponent, thanks to luck and a good goalkeeping. Well there’s two differences – Al Hilal is more like MU or Milan, and Wesley was luckily was so vain. But Lee Keun-ho was also disappointing, despite his role in Rafinha’s goal.

And of course, Adelaide v Bunyodkor is akin to Chelsea v Juventus – hometown joy quickly goes off. The lifeline’s still there for Adelaide – they are not in crisis like Guangzhou do.

As for the AFC Cup – so much for Southeast Asian football.  Come back next week for more pain.

 

ACL QF results (first leg): Al Ittihad (Saudi) – Guangzhou Evergrande (China) 4-2, Sepahan (Iran) – Al Ahli (Saudi) 0-0, Adelaide United (Australia) – Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan) 2-2, Ulsan Hyundai (Korea) – Al Hilal (Saudi) 1-0.

AFC Cup QF results (first leg): Al Kuwait – Al Wehdat (Jordan) 0-0, Arema (Indonesia) – Al Ettifaq (Saudi) 0-2, Arbil (Iraq) – Kelantan (Malaysia) 5-1, Chonburi (Thailand) – Al Shorta (Syria) 1-2.

Six things we learnt from AFC Champions League Group Stage

1. Qatar – numbers mean nothing

Like many things in Qatar, the Stars League can offer more than its neighbors. The payroll might not be as interesting as in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but Doha seems to be a more interesting place to live and has better football atmosphere. We’re talking about the Asian Cup and the World Cup host here (which, well, who knows, might get the fourth ticket to Brazil). Many Bahrain players move there to escape the political prosecution and complications, and supposedly, with a Qatari club as the defending champions, a Qatar club can go further than UAE’s, while the living condition is more pleasant than in Saudi.

Not so. All Qatari club, four of them, crashed. First, unlike Liverpool 2005, the champions Al-Sadd was not competing. They could be the third best club in the world after Kashiwa Reysol (okay, that’s not true), but they finished sixth in the 2010-11 Stars League season. They won’t compete in ACL next year either, finished fourth (the fourth ticket was taken by Emir Cup’s winners Al Gharafa).

So, Al Rayyan (Afonso Alves, ex-Middlesbrough) and Lehkwiya (Nam Tae-Hee) scored only two wins. Al Gharafa (Ze Roberto & ex-Urawa Edmilson) got three times draw – although facing Persepolis and Al Hilal would leave you a little chance of qualifying.  Al Arabi….certainly the worst. Six losses, four goals for against sixteen against.

I’ve said that there’s a ray of light shining for UAE since the Olympics qualification. It is, with Al Jazira topping Group A and Bani Yas overcoming Pakhtakor. Al Nasr and Al Shabab certainly crashed and ranked below their Qatari rivals, but the Emirates are still having in the game.

2. Can Saudi football redeem itself?

Certainly Saudi Pro League still have the two most fearsome clubs in Asia – Al Ittihad and Al Hilal. In the past both clubs could draw more than 30 thousands to an ACL match, although that’s not the case now. They are, however, are still powered by local players. In fact each of them has only two non-Muslim players – Paulo Jorge and Fabrice Ondama in Ittihad and Christian Wilhelmsson and Yoo Byung-Soo in Hilal, which are flourishing far away from La Coruna and Incheon.

Of course, club success can be powered by good management and national failures can be influenced by terrible FA administration, negative state intervention (including choosing a crappy or inflexible manager), and lack of motivation. It’s hard to describe nationalism in an absolute monarchy – Hegel had found it in the 1800s. Al Hilal, Al Ahli, and Al Ittihad have the good chance to go to quarter finals (and eliminating UAE clubs if they do so), and certainly they aim to reclaim the champions title, last won by a Saudi side in 2005. If they can do it, then the FA have to follow up with the Asian Cup 2015 project.

 

3. Adelaide are still the only reliable Australian club in the ACL

In A-League, they can go from top 3 to bottom 3 in alternating seasons. Adelaide qualified to this year’s ACL through playoff. But their experience and flair against the northerners count year after year, while Brisbane and Central Coast prove that unlike the national team, Aussie clubs are not first rate (league and clubs managements included). Adelaide destroyed two former champions, Pohang and Gamba, and could become the favorites against Nagoya. Bruce Djite might fit as Australia’s Emile Heskey, but Dario Vidosic has my vote to be a Socceroo regular, and Sergio van Dijk is the best forward Indonesia has never had.

 

4. These are testing times for Korean teams.

Finally, the fallout of last year’s bribe scandals is here. Only Ulsan proved the quality of a Korean team, and Seongnam were lucky they were in an equally boring group with half of the group’s games ended in draws  (hey, draws without losses is something to be proud of. Just ask New Zealand fans). The supposedly exciting Pohang lost in competition to Bunyodkor (another sign of Uzbek resilience against the Japan-Korea block), while I’m bit ashamed of praising Lee Dong-Gook in my last post, seeing how Jeonbuk fell. It seems that the life and death of Jeonbuk are decided by how he’s doing on the match day instead of the teamwork Eninho, Kim Jung-Woo, and Kim Sang-Sik. Hugo Droguett is promising, but it seems like he needs more time to be a worthy partner to D.G.

This is the first time Korea fail to qualify at least three clubs since the current format introduced in 2009. And I take it as a failure. Jeonbuk’s failure certainly influenced by the rise of Guangzhou Evergrande, which deserves its own talking point, but even Seongnam were close to fail were it faced more aggressive opponents.

 

5. Guangzhou Evergrande continue its empire building

Manchester City teach that money can build your glory, earlier than what you expect. that’s what’s happened in Guangzhou, probably the best-run metropolis in China, which scouted and nurtured South Americans who really delivered. If Chelsea rely on Africans and Arsenal on continental Europeans (and Manchester United, at one point, on the Celts), then Guangzhou can be forgiven to rely on Muriqui, Cleo, and Conca for the attack and Paulao for the defence. Still, they needed six others Chinese to hold the line – and it’s good to see Cho Won-Hee redeemed after terrible times in Wigan and Suwon.

Sadly, pride rather than ambition might influence the replacement of Lee Jang-Soo with Marcello Lippi. Evergrande RE just wants to boast that it employs the Italian legend rather than trusting a coach that can ensure its domination in China and in Asia. Just like Roberto di Matteo’s employment in Chelsea is still not ensured even if he’ll win them the UEFA Champions League tonight. Owners, after all, care more about employing famous generals than having the most suited general for the club.

 

6. Gamba aside, J. League clubs are fine

Oh the irony. Newcomers FC Tokyo, previously the West Ham of Tokyo football, did really fine. Unstable Japanese champions Kashiwa passed the test with the last day’s coup against Jeonbuk (a plus point, if you consider Japanese stage fright against Korean teams). Nagoya followed Seongnam’s policy of two wins four draws, and yet they still prevailed against the supposedly threatening Brisbane and Tianjin.

So, why do we need to speak about Gamba? Perhaps because they are the former Asian champions. Perhaps they are used to be one the most strongest teams in Japan year in and year out. And now in the J. League, their mission for the season would be to escape relegation, just one month into the completion.

I’ll leave the deeper discussion about Gamba to my good friend Ben Mabley, who’s considering himself Osakan. I counted myself as a Gamba supporter, but then again, I don’t feel the passion I have when I’m supporting Manchester United (come on, I feel bad writing this). Maybe had I lived in Japan, I chose to live in Yokohama. Yay Marinos.

ACL playoff: Adelaide United 3 Persipura 0

I was going to show you the West Papuan flag but I don't want no trouble, so here's a very un-football badge of Persipura.

A post while waiting for Ajax v Manchester United (Ji-Sun on bench and Ajax has no Asian player…can you believe they feature an Armenian forward?). Tonight Adelaide United qualified to the 2012 ACL group stage to enjoy pleasant trips to Osaka, Tashkent, and either Pohang or Chonburi. Despite the current Visit Korea campaigns, Chonburi seems to be more popular for tourists, although it’s unlikely. Besides, I want to see uh, Hwang Ji-Soo and Shin Hyung-Min. Yeah, that would work. And No Byung-Jun on the bench. And uh, Derek Asamoah.

The one shot playoff between Adelaide United and Indonesian champions Persipura, shorthand for Jayapura United, was filled with dramas. You might have heard for other places (not here) that Indonesia currently has two top leagues. Last season there was a breakaway league called the Premier League. Guys from the Premier League won the FA management and so made their brand into the official league. Since it would have contained 22 teams, which is ridiculous, most teams stayed with last season’s official league, called the Super League. Some teams had also went into civil war and their sides competed in both leagues.

Persipura competed in the Super League, and thus the Indonesian FA withdrew its participation from the ACL. But then Persipura won temporary appeal in the Court of  Arbitration for Sport. The Indonesian FA surprisingly let Persipura had their way, while Adelaide United were understandably unhappy. Now sitting at the bottom of the A-League, they have to hold extra game in mid-week. As for Persipura, they had to lodge in their visa applications on Monday morning for a Thursday evening match. I heard that they arrived in Adelaide on Thursday morning.

One off match and the odds were for Adelaide. They put on the A-team, with Djite, van Dijk, Cassio, and Galekovic. Persipura were without its iconic bad boy Boaz Solossa, but still sporting formidable names in Indonesian football, like Yoo Jae-Hoon, Ricardo Salampessy, and SEA Games hero Titus Bonai.

And so the result between Australian v Southeast Asian football was clear. Outpaced, overpowered, outclassed. Adelaide scored just after the tenth minute. Persipura were too timid with its midfield and wings passing and were too panicked with their defenses. First sub was made by the half hour mark when Liberian playmaker Krangar replaced defender Padwa.

In the end, Adelaide got its goals from two defenders – Boogaard and Levchenko before van Dijk struck for the third. Djite might called the night a bad training session since he missed his chances. Star Sports concluded that the result was the best for both teams. Persipura got their reward for winning the 2011 Indonesian league and represented Indonesia – at least still better than Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore which don’t play at all :p. Adelaide got a pick me up game to return their confidence and to warm them up for the upcoming Champions League, and even one goal from Persipura might have dented their confidence.

But here’s the most important thing. Had Persipura won, they it’s back to court as AFC had to retract its earlier decision to grant qualification to Adelaide. CAS has to weight in cases from AFC, Indonesian FA, Persipura, and Adelaide United. And yes, the costs of hosting international games and to travel to Japan, Uzbekistan, and…Korea. No, Persipura will not play in the AFC Cup.

The aftermath of the game in Indonesia, however, unsettles me. While in Australia it’s another “boy aren’t we good at sports” snip, in Indonesia, as the saying goes, the silent is deafening. Yes, Indonesian press are happy (more than the audience) that Indonesia defeat South Korea in Thomas Cup qualification (that’s men badminton). Hmm…more case for the argument that Indonesians are fickle about their football. I’ve heard Papuans complaining that Indonesians are not proud enough to see Persipura represent Indonesia. No, not really.

There are hundred of comments on the few articles reporting Persipura’s defeat in Australia. Most of them are flame wars between people who support and who hate the Premier League. Persipura is taken as the poster boy of the Super League…so…can you spell that particular German word? You know what’s worse? In the growing trend of acceptance of racism in football, some commentators don’t hesitate to use racial slurs on Papuans. Just months after Papuan footballers were hailed as national heroes in the SEA Games.

That’s the first punch. The second is about West Papuan flag. Yes, there was a West Papuan flag caught on camera. Not a gigantic one. Just flown probably by some Papuan diaspora in Australia. For Australian audience, it would be just like an indigenous Australian flag, or Catalonian flag, or the People’s Republic of Cork’s flag. I was going to say that in Indonesia it was taken like how Chinese bloggers view a Tibet flag flown in Australia, but I didn’t stumble on many Indonesian blogs making issue about the flag. Indonesian news sites also didn’t report it, because they had to report on the match first.

Still, it was raised on the comments section for the wrong reason – Persipura or its supporters are accused of waving the “separatist” flag instead of Indonesian flag, and thus making their sense of nationalism questionable. Duh, they were on the pitch as the away team, and couldn’t be held responsible if someone in Australia flying a flag hated by Indonesian armchair nationalists. Hey, whatever to attack the team you don’t like, eh? There was no Indonesian flag because I supposed no Indonesian in Adelaide was really into Asian football. Heck, had I been in Adelaide, I wouldn’t come to the stadium since it’s damn hard to find another Indonesian interested to see the match, and who’s happened to have an Indonesian flag.

Finally, Sergio. Last autumn (spring in Australia) he was hoping that he can play for Indonesia for their final World Cup qualification against Bahrain in February. His name’s not on the training camp list and there’s no result on Google on whether he’s got his Indonesian passport. Probably because the strives inside Indonesian football scares him (it did scare Singaporean Noor Alam Shah) and because the FA is putting too much attention on purging players who are in the Super League. Who knows, perhaps while Sergio thought he could play in Australia and play for Indonesia, which would be very beneficial for the latter, the FA thought that the better idea is for him to play in the Premier League.

My, East Asian football. Now that Bunyodkor has to fill in the space for the east, it means there is so many wrong things about you.