6 Things from Asian Cup qualification final day…and friendlies

Still the boss.

Still the boss.

My gosh, a new post in less than a month! It’s just that yesterday’s international orgy frenzy was so awesome I had to make some notes. Here they are.

1. Cahill: Still the Boss of Asia.

When he ruined Japan back in World Cup 2006, coming in for Mark Bresciano at the 53th minute, Tim Cahill still represented Oceania Football Confederation. Indeed, he had the choice to represent Samoa (like his brother Chris does).  I could not hate Tiny Tim – he did his job, and he did it better than Shunsuke Nakamura and the forgettable Hidetoshi Nakata.

One year later, Australia joined the AFC Asian Cup and many Asians – Arabs, Chinese, Indians, and Malays – did not welcome the white ‘intruders’ well. Oman were close to welcome Australia into the barrack, but Tim saved Australia’s face on injury time. Iraq did the job (3-1), before Australia defeated Thailand soundly 4-0.

Australia came into the knockout rounds as favorites against Japan, and this time Japan prevailed in the penalty shootouts (Cahill scored). Japan’s victory, however, felt hollow after Iraq took all the glory. Seasons afterward, Cahill became a cult player in the Premier League – goals after goals with the football hipster’s (if you can say so) club Everton. Then he thought that’s that and ‘retired’ to United States, where again he used heads and feet to score for NY Red Bulls.

Meanwhile, Australia had no other player like him while Japan produced Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda and Korea released Son Heung-min and Ki Sung-yong. No Australian player took the center stage of European leagues in the past two years.

Not everyone in Australia takes well the news that the 34 year old is still Australia’s prime goal scorer and best player. But with his reliability and relatively lack of drama (compared to Kagawa in Europe and Ki in Korea), how come you don’t love someone who keeps scoring for your team?

Australia 3 Ecuador 4 (Cahill 2 goals. Ryan was subbed for Langerak at second half, who then was replaced with Jones after Langerak was red carded).

2. Who’s Asia’s best goalkeeper? Kawashima or Ryan?

It was Mark Schwarzer. He had mixed records with Middlesbrough and Fulham, but any Asian goalkeeper is lucky enough to be trusted by a European club. Maybe the impression that they are “too short”. Maybe the sense that they are either not aggressive and commanding enough, or too panicked and erratic to guard the posts. Schwarzer, Federici, Jones, and Petkovic were recruited by European clubs because they are European Australians.

Then Eiji Kawashima became the first Japanese goalkeeper to play in Europe since Kawaguchi was booed in England and Denmark in early 2000s. It was not easy – he had to contend with the “Fukushima Kawashima” jeers in 2011 and Standard Liege benched him several times before he survived loan consideration and saw rivals Anthony Moris and Yohann Thuram-Ulien loaned out instead.

Schwarzer still wants to play for Brazil 14, but Australian coaches wanted a younger face. They might have found it in Mathew Ryan. Kawashima might be the safest hands in Belgian Pro League with streaks of clean sheets, but Ryan prevailed over him when Club Brugge defeated Standard Liege 1-0 last Sunday.

Kawashima played for 90 minutes against New Zealand and how he missed Liege’s defense on the second half. Meanwhile, Ryan logged off when it was Australia 3 Ecuador 0 and partly bemused, partly amused, by the sight of his rivals Langerak and Jones messed things up.

O yeah, Jung Sung-ryong restarts the competition with Kim Seung-gyu for Korea’s number one, but one of them has to be able to play in Europe eventually. And that’s a tall order. On Iran? Daniel Davari is just terrible for club and country.

Japan 4 New Zealand 2. Japan scored four goals in 20 minutes then let New Zealand pulled back two in the next 70 minutes.

3. Korea can do better.

Poor, poor Greeks. Losing 0-2 to Korea twice – on neutral and home grounds. Park Chu-young has redeemed himself much sooner than the Greek economy and football have. Korean football is still an anomaly after the 2011 match fixing scandals – plenty of promising stars in Britain and Germany, hidden gems in Japan and the Gulf, and clubs with strong performance in Asia. But put them against Uzbekistan and Iran and I’ll be very stressed out for 90 minutes.

At least now Hong Myung-bo knows that Korea can win without Park Ji-sung. This is not a totally good news, as now there’s a dilemma to call him for Brazil 14 or not. And if he’s called and he heeds the call, should he be a marquee sub or a starter? Is it wise to gamble eternity for the decision, knowing every movement and final result of a World Cup match are remembered forever?

Actually, Korea have nothing to lose. They know they will not win the World Cup and the best possibility is to pass the group stage. Nobody expects Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, Ki Sung-yong and Kim Young-gwon to become global brands (they even aren’t hipsters’ favorites). The goal of the Class of 2011 is to win the 2015 Asian Cup.

But the expectation and demand of the people of Korea can be overwhelming and burdensome. Forever they’ll curse a player who makes a mistake and make a catchphrase out of a missed opportunity. Korea can do better if only their fans lower the expectation and let things go easier, but no. They will want Korea to win gold.

Greece 0 Korea 2. Park Chu-young returned from disgrace with the first goal.

4. China must stop relying on luck.

Lucky losers China are. Had Zhang Xizhe missed the penalty kick against Iraq, it would have been Lebanon who qualified, leaving no East Asian team to qualify via proper process. China go to Australia 2015 as lucky losers, the best of all third place teams. During the qualification process, China won twice, two 1-0s at home to Indonesia and Iraq. This is not good enough for the country with the supposedly most exciting league in Asia (well, more foreigners will agree with that claim than most Chinese do). Not good enough for players who play week in week out for Guangzhou Evergrande.

In Australia 2015, China might have bit of luck on their side. But that’s not enough. It’s about time they have some players good enough to play Europe by their own merits.

Iraq 3 China 1. China qualify to Asian Cup 2015 as the best third-place team, above Lebanon.

5. Southeast Asia: Some Try, Some Don’t.

One terrible thing for Australia, host to the next Asian Cup, is that no Southeast Asia country coming. Southeast Asians make up a great part of Asian-Australians: Chinese and Indian Malaysians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Thais, and Chinese and non-Chinese Indonesians. These Asian residents and citizens might not have flocked the stadiums had their teams qualified, but there would be spotlights on both Australia and Southeast Asia. Some European Australians might even support Thailand or Vietnam out of family or social relations.

Malaysia and Vietnam were Southeast Asians who tried hard. Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia did not try hard. Thailand are a puzzling case. I just praised Buriram United, and yet the national team lost all their matches – against Lebanon, Iran, and Kuwait. Lest they could have done were putting a fight against Lebanon and Kuwait. Instead they conceded at least two goals in each match – three goals was the norm. No way the political crisis is a valid excuse.

African stars in Europe have lamented on how corruption, football as political tools, petty rivalries, elites’ obsession for watching European football, and ignoring grassroot development destroy the supposedly promising national sides. It’s the same story in Southeast Asia.

Thailand 2 Lebanon 5. Saudi Arabia 1 Indonesia 0. Yemen 1 Malaysia 2. Vietnam 3 Hong Kong 1. Oman 3 Singapore 1. Only Malaysia finish the group at the third place.

6. Stop AFC Challenge Cup, please.

Ironically, Philippines have the good chance of being the sole Southeast Asian representative in Australia 2015, if they win the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup. The Challenge cup is supposedly a medium for the weakest teams in Asia to get something to care about. But it’s never that. It’s a sneaky ploy to get India and North Korea to play in the Asian Cup although they don’t deserve it. It’s a device to jump the queue.

I get the point if AFC wants India to love football. I get the point if AFC wants Philippines to love football. What I never understand is why AFC loves North Korea (qualified to Asian Cup via Challenge Cup). If money is the answer, then we have a very disturbing situation, because North Korea gets its money through crimes.

Even according to the current FIFA ranking, Philippines do not belong in the Challenge Cup. Now they are the strongest team in Southeast Asia, and I believe it. Indonesia and Singapore (and Malaysia, actually) fit in better to be put into the Challenge Cup, although it won’t be done. It’d be too humiliating for both these football crazy countries and for the AFC. But if the Challenge Cup’s category is “for countries where football is not the primary sport and/or whose national leagues are in um, developing stages” then North Korea do not fit the first category and India don’t fit the second. AFC Challenge Cup is a big fat junk and it should be kicked out.

Otherwise, the winner of the challenge cups must face lucky losers of the proper Asian Cup qualifications – if North Korea or Philippines want to play in the Asian Cup (India, mercifully, were eliminated by Bangladesh), then they have to prove that they are better than China and Lebanon first.

AFC Challenge Cup 2014 is set to begin on May 2014. The winner will qualify to the Asian Cup. “Favorites” are Turkmenistan, Philippines, and Myanmar.

It’s a Hard Knock Life

“Are you an angel?”
“Si senor. I’m here to take you back to Spain.”
“NOOOOOO…..”
“The recession isn’t that bad, senor.”
“No, Liu Jianye’s screwing up again…”

It’s a hard knock life to be a manager. To be a national team manager. Be the field marshal of your nation’s pride, or be the darling of a foreign country, a ‘white witch doctor’, perhaps? Certainly Guus Hiddink had it in Korea and Australia.

But it’s never never fun to become the man responsible for international matches. That’s why men prefer to manage clubs – more ruthless, more money-driven, and every week could be your last week at the job, but you don’t have to blame someone else the morning the national papers are looking for the culprit. When an oversexed narcissist says he hates you after he’s late for the training again, you can just sell him and shrug that he’s past his prime anyway. At least the press tend to blame the players for ‘lack of spirit’ rather than accusing you as a tactical idiot. Leave that to tweeters.

First thing first, life’s pretty hard for Jose Camacho. Look, for millenniums (millennia, dear spell checker) the Chinese have assured themselves that it’s a jungle out there, north of Mongolia and south of Vietnam and east of the coast. Chinese who left the Middle Kingdom were seen as lost souls who had left civilization.

So, when in a day in 2012, China ventured to the wilderness of Brazil’s northeast region, far from Sao Paulo or Rio, rather than arranging a match in say Dubai or Switzerland, just when Japan thinks its wiser to invite random Latin American or Southern European teams to Japan under the guise of ‘Kirin Challenge Cup’; China said “Look Mom, I’m a grown man and I’m willing to travel to Brazil rather than paying Hulk and Neymar to come here to say hello to Didier and Nic.” Good God what did they think. They might as well burn a wooden dragon and call it The Ashes of Chinese football. Recife, 10 September 2012.

Here’s parting shot on China – they can export anything but not footballers. Haw haw.

Move on. It’s a hard life for Alex Ferguson, seeing his goods damaged by national federations – Jones, Kagawa, and van Persie. But after Tuesday night, all Japanese fans could sleep soundly and it’s safe again for me to wear Germany 2006 shirt on Wednesday. Mahmoud could  have scored had not for referee intervention, seeing him toying with Kawashima? Sure. Honda was yeah good but he should have scored? Of course. Iraq were the better team even with rookie starters? What can you say.

But it’s Japan 1 Iraq 0. It’s ten points from three victories. That’s three or four more wins before it’s Samba 14. In the night where it’s Serbia 6 Wales 1, Peru 1 Argentina 1, and England 1 Ukraine 1. Closer to Saitama, it’s  Uzbekistan 2 Korea 2, and Ki Sung Yueng scored an own goal and Lee Dong Gook had his effort cancelled just after the kick off. More importantly, it’s Lebanon 1 Iran 0. And here it comes – Jordan 2 Australia 1. With Schwarzer on the goal and Cahill and Bresciano on the case.

So, who’s got blamed? Not the coaches for now. Australians are complaining about ‘Dad’s Army’ and Osieck says that some will be fired. Oh sure. But can Langerak replace Schwarzer? Will Jones play for Liverpool in the league, not the League Cup? Where does sideback David Carney live? Tashkent, Uzbekistan. What about Spiranovic? His address is in Doha. Great for executives but not for a footballer. What about Matt McKay? Busan, Republic of Korea. Hmm…what about the heir to Kewell or Viduka? Oh, you mean Robbie Kruse? At least he’s playing for his country, unlike his teammate Cha Du-ri.

No one would think of this ten years ago – Anglo-Irish Australians don’t play in the EPL* and the Italians don’t play in Serie A. Now Japanese youth are learning German (I hope they do…but I don’t hold my breath) while their seniors are living uncomfortably in small cities like Manchester or Stuttgart, which are not as glittering as Tokyo (I hope you are happy now, Sota Hirayama). Compare their fates with the young Australians who enjoy good life in Busan, Doha, and Abu Dhabi. And of course Melbourne, the greatest city in the world.

*Except Brett Holman and um, Brad Jones.

At least now Aussie press are in panic mode. Which is good. Because we just had an Olympics football without ‘roos and Mathildas. There’s a risk, some say, that Australians will see a World Cup without Australia. Nonsense. Even if Iraq manage to become the runner up of the group, and thus fulfilling George Bush’s vision of an achieving Middle Eastern state, Australia will meet Uruguay in the Intercontinental Playoff after bested future tournament hosts Qatar. If you want to bedevil someone, let him be Luis Suarez.

PS: Apparently Sven-Goran Eriksson has read “100 Bullshit Jobs and How to Get Them”. Technical Director. That’s a bullshit job. So does “Global Advisor”, but the latter is located north of Manchester, while the former is located in Bangkok. It’s a good life and he will not take the blame when BEC Tero Sasana still don’t compete in ACL 13.