The China Post

Manner, gentlemen.

Manner, gentlemen.

Well, if this blog is about East Asian football, then this blog has to write something about when a K-League club does not win the AFC Champions League for the first time. The ACL trophy stays in East Asia, this time in China.

Guangzhou Evergrande did have to win the 2013 Champions League. For them to fail to do so is like Chelsea failing to win anything with Mourinho (eh. oh.), like Manchester City cannot prosper in Europe (…), and like France being put in Group A in a World Cup with easy opponents that included Uruguay (what’s your point, really?). We have to think of Marcello Lippi’s legacy and stories he tells to his grandchildren.

And so, Evergrande’s victory is China’s football renaissance? I’m belonged to those who think no, they won because they got the right South Americans. Of course, they had to be supported by able Chinese (and Korean) defenders and goalkeepers, otherwise they would keep losing 2-3 and 3-4. And oh, Guangzhou defeated Seoul by away goal aggregate instead of a win. This one’s thanks to AFC again.

In modern football, it’s hard to argue that Evergrande is not a Chinese team just because more than half of their goals this season in China and Asia were scored by Dario Conca, Elkeson, and Muriqui. That’s all. That’s all they needed. No different to other teams in Japan and Korea or Thailand, and compared to European teams like Chelsea or Internazionale…

Tonight China won 1-0 against Indonesia in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualification. And China didn’t look that good, playing to their advantage deep in the continent (OK, I can hear them arguing that United States choose Kansas and Colorado for CONCACAF matches). This is the team that fielded Zeng Cheng, Rong Hao, Zhang Linpeng, Zhao Xuri, Huang Bowen, and Gao Lin. Guangzhou Evergrande minus the foreign players. That’s how they fared – winning 1-0 against a Southeast Asian team who could not exploit their mistakes and of lesser skills. Next week they hosted Saudi Arabia, and I want to see the Guangzhou players to kick up their standard.

Guangzhou Evergrande’s victory is a victory for the team, no matter how China wants to see it as a victory for China. Certainly the national team live in another world. Apart from the inferiority demonstrated by Chinese players tonight compared to watching Japan and Korea, I was concerned by two things. First, China kept attacking when Victor Igbonefo lied down injured on his own penalty box. It was bad enough for Australian referee Peter Green to not call of play. It was worse for Sun Ke to press on and attempted a shot on goal (Indonesian players protested to Green after the ball left the field). I understand that there’s no big moral obligation in throwing away the ball when an opposition is injured, but it was simply not fair play (don’t give me the East Asian rubbish that “football is war”, quoted/misquoted from a Dutch).

Second, it was fun to see Korean supporters being sexy and cute. It was bit disturbing to see Chinese supporters – didn’t see much female to my surprise – literally went shoulders to shoulders in red tracksuits. Uniformity starts to creep me out.

Among my favorite athletes are Yao Ming and Li Na, but I start to understand why I cannot support China football the way I support Japan’s and Korean. The fan culture seems not fun, but can be scary like what I saw tonight. In short, it’s just not cute enough.

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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.