And they scored!

The sad thing was Manchester United lost. Because they were lost, nobody really remembered Park Ji-Sung equalizer. In the same night, my wish from the previous post came true – Shinji Kagawa scored two goals against Hoffenheim, and Mike Havenaar scored for Vitesse before PSV put an end to their hope of a comeback. Hajime Hosogai also helped Ausburg scoring equalizer against Kaiserslautern. The only dent was Koo and Hasebe’s inability to fight Bayern Munich.

Kagawa and Havenaar’s performance both grabbed modest attention in Japanese media on Sunday, as well as assorted sports site. Unfortunately, they play in Germany instead of England. In the rest of Southeast Asia there are raging debates every day on EPL clubs, while in Indonesia people abuse each other over Madrid v Barcelona, but no one watches Bundesliga, let alone Eredivisie.

On Sunday, however, the fortunes of the Koreans and the Japanese turned over. Nagatomo played full time in Inter’s suprise defeat to Lecce, Okazaki came in at the start of the second half but Stuttgart were badly damaged in the last ten minutes, Uchida played only for the first half and got a yellow card to boot (and Schalke was able to turn the table once he was gone), and Yoshida was helpless as RKC  mistreated VVV. Ji and Chu-Young spent the whole match again on the bench. Still, credit to Kawashima for clean sheet in away victory against Westerlo.

What’s the lesson? First, at least watching Japanese and Korean attackers are much less depressing than five years ago, when you got Takahara and Ahn and Seol and Lee Dong-Gook attempting to make a break in England and Germany. No, please don’t remind me on the last day of the Japanese in Serie A (I’m not talking about Yuto. I’m talking about Ogasawara, Yanagisawa, Oguro. And Morimoto). But as expected, their defensive sides, while have secured their names in starting XI, are still shaky. Even my favorite Lee Jung-Soo lapsed in the second half and almost letting go a three goals advantage as Al Sadd registered narrow 3-2 against Al Ahli in Qatar.

 

I think that’s all about Japan and Korea. Anyway, yesterday I found two names – first is Hiroshi Ibusuki, the current top scorer of Spain’s Segunda B Group 4. He plays for Sevilla B. A former youth player for Kashiwa, he has lived in Spain for three years and scored 35 goals. How about that, scoring 35 goals in Spain before you are 21 year old. In Japan U-23, however, he is still ranked behind Yamazaki, Nagai, Osako and Usami, just to name a few.

The second name is Xavier Chen, playing for Mechelen. I was wondering how could a Taiwanese playing in the Belgian Premier League, seeing that no Taiwanese plays even in Hong Kong First Division or J.League Division 2. Turned out he’s half-Belgian, the Taiwanese football federation claimed to know him when playing FIFA 12 (talking about scouting), and said that they had to race China which was also approaching Chen. I don’t think China is one of federations which are keen to naturalize foreign-born players, but let’s just leave the story like that.

On the other hand, Indonesians are in love with Radja Nainggolan, half-Indonesian Belgian midfielder playing for Cagliari, who was linked with Juventus, which is still a popular club in Indonesia. I’m glad that he has played twice for Belgium so Indonesian football federation cannot approach him for *sigh* naturalization. FYI, in FIFA 12 Chen is rated 67 while Nainggolan’s rating is 76, making him one of the top Asian players in the game, ethnically.

Naturalization in Southeast Asia

The leagues are over in East Asia but there are still plenty of Asian football this December. The AFF Suzuki Cup group stage ends with some upsets: Favorite Thailand leave without a win, and supposedly non-footballing Philippines go to the Semi Finals undefeated. What happened?

‘Naturalization’ is a popular topic in Asian football. Despite the supposed less migrant-friendly societies, citizenship transfer of foreign born players are less controversial than it should in Asia. In modern times, Japan started it when Ruy Ramos and Wagner Lopes played for Japan in the 90s. In Korea, Valery Sarychev and Denis Laktionov became Korean citizens although in the end they never played for the Red Devils. Qatar has no qualm in recruiting Uruguayans and Brazilians.

Singapore was the pioneer in Southeast Asia when it opened path to foreign players in the S-League to play for Singapore. Nigerian born Precious and Agu Casmir, English born Jonathan Wilkinson and Daniel Bennett, and Chinese born Shi Jiayi did it for several reasons: They’ve married to Singaporeans and have children, they won’t be able to play for their national team, life’s better here, and so on. But after shocking Asia in mid 2000s, they might have been out of steam and looked less than impressive this month, getting away with a hard fought 2-1 win over Myanmar while held by Philippines and lost to Vietnam.

Now both Indonesia and Philippines do well with naturalized players. Cristian Gonzales have played in Indonesia for years and have an Indonesian family. He’s 34. Irfan Bachdim, now idolized as a pretty boy by middle class girls who usually skip local football, has Indonesian father and Dutch mother.

On the other hand, the Filipinos consist of several Filipino-looking men who have classy English surnames (e.g. Greatwich, Younghusband, or Etheridge). They study professional football in England and United States and the nutrition, training and experience there have rewarded them with the sharp edge in defeating Vietnam 1-0 and holding Singapore 1-1. Even Indonesia cannot take them easily despite having a double home advantages (the organizers deem Philippines to not having adequate ground for their home leg). Better for these Filipinos, they don’t have to ditch their father’s side citizenship, unlike in Indonesia (although they are aware they won’t be able to play for England or Iceland).

Of course, naturalization is difference with recruiting migrant kids. When the naturalization debate began in Indonesia, many people wrongfully thought that Zidane, Desailly, and Henry were ‘naturalized’ too, while in fact they grew up in France. Alessandro Santos graduated from Japanese high school and so were Tadanari Lee and Mike Havenaar. So far, Southeast Asia hasn’t had youth players who are born from migrants. Perhaps Singapore would have more half-Western players in the future, although this is still not the case in Thailand. Certainly, it would also help if more ethnic Indians and Chinese feel comfortable to become professional footballers in Singapore (which is still happening in Malaysia). Indonesia is still eager to find more European based players who have Indonesian parents, usually Moluccan-Dutch.

In Indonesia, the Red and White’s successive wins have overcome all the skepticism about the team’s quality, the new citizens, and the new coach. Even now people say that Gonzales and Irfan are ‘nationalist’ Indonesians who sing the anthem proudly. Still, the semi finals will just begin on Wednesday and more people going to get hurt when their enterprising team failed to reach the final. The expectation is very big on Indonesia’s side.

Asians on World Stage

Seongnam continue the tradition of Asian teams to qualify to the semi-finals of FIFA Club World Cup, after defeating host Al-Wahda 4-1. Goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong attracts the attention of FIFA.com as the only Asian player who are in two World Cups this year. Seongnam will take it easy against Internazionale but feel at advantage with Inter’s current confidence crisis.

Shinji Kagawa scores. Again. In Dortmund 2-0 win against Bremen. Another FC Seoul striker joins the Ligue 1 after Auxerre recruits Park Chu-Young’s successor Jung Ju-Gook. Park’s Monaco are on the edge of the relegation zone, while Auxerre do bit better on the 14th.

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.