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.


Agony of February

Just keep doing better, man.

Just keep doing better, man.

February. 30ish days after your New Year’s Resolutions, you meet the truth that some old troubles stick. Others are popping out. That fresh start is not really fresh. People replaced their calendar with dread – O God, it’s one month already and I’m still like this?!

As for me, health problems keep dragging me down and prevented me to write on the scram from Shanghai and the Singapore fix sooner. But let’s get it on with the bleeding.

First paragraph applies to Korea. Now they are six months away from their last victory – 2-1 in friendly against Zambia back in August. Then draw with Uzbekistan, and then loss to Iran, and then…loss to Australia at home.

In February 2013 Korea attempted to be international and held friendly with Croatia in London – so Ki SY and Lee CY could take trains, Park CY, Son HM, and Koo JC could take budget flights, while Croatia could bring in the heavies.

Indeed they were. Ah, 0-2 at half-time. Well, Mario Manduzkic is certainly better than Mario Gomez, isn’t he? Let’s try second half, this time with Lee Dong-gook, Park Chu-young, and Kim Bo-kyung thrown in. Ah, 0-4. By guys who played in Everton and Fulham. For comparison, Australia also went down 2-3 to Romania in Spain…but they scored twice. Well, their defenders, anyway. And that after winger Robbie Kruse had a great weekend before the match.

If I were a Korean, I’d be so envy toward the Japanese, who enjoy the spotlight with Shinji “I’m not good enough” Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, and Shinji Okazaki. And Yuto Nagatomo, who is playing for Inter and might play for Munich or Manchester United. Granted, Latvia didn’t send its best team to Japan (i.e. no Hamburg’s Artjom Rudnevs), but see how offices were like on Thursday morning in Tokyo and Seoul. I even wore Samurai Blue scarf to work – flu-chic.

Umm, now in Shanghai people are celebrating New Year, Anelka and Drogba must be not on their minds. In mid-January I was searching the reasons why they left – Shanghai sounded supposed to be a fun place to play easy football and gaining easy money. Turned out the explanations were so simple.

Shanghai boss Zhu Jun is a bizzare character in first place. Some say that he’s more interested in self-publicity, oneupmanship, and online gaming business (The9) rather than football business. That could be the logical explanation behind the sellings of Duvier Riascos (24 goals in 39 matches) and Gao Lin (to scandal-tainted Guangzhou Evergrande, well this is back in 2010). That’s why Joel Griffiths left (he wasn’t happy in Beijing either). That’s why Tigana was sacked just after five matches.

That’s why the team went on strike in October. Zhu Jun himself was unhappy – his business partners in the Communist Party didn’t give him ‘his fair share’.

I was one of those who believed that Anelka and Drogba could flourish in China. The men themselves had pictured great lives in the great Far East metropolitan. The result was like what I wrote in the 2012 review – goals to force a draw, frustrations, and Anelka sulking on the supporters. When they left, Shanghai Shenhua supporters blamed the club – or saying that actually they were too good for Shanghai. And so greed and ignorance of several tycoons (and their cronies in the government) cancelled the rise of Chinese football.

Worse thing came out of Singapore, and also with worse reaction. The fixing of boatloads of friendlies, lower leagues, and even probably the Champions League match between Liverpool and Debrecen. For years everyone had spoken about ‘Asian gambling syndicate’. Now we have names – Dan Tan Seet Eng (Dan is his English name. His Chinese given name is Seet Eng) and his lieutenant Wilson Raj Perumal. WRP was arrested in Finland soon after he berated some players who didn’t fulfill order. There were stories that it was Tan who tipped the police because Perumal blew his budget and had too many debts to the boss.

Why it’s a worse news? Not just because it’s a major international crime. But it’s depressing how Singapore reacts to the scandal. Major media outlets (controlled by the government) did put it on headlines, but no more than that. Now it’s a forgotten story in Singapore. Several Westerners believe that Dan Tan is not really a fugitive – he’s still in Singapore. I wonder if many Singaporeans think the same – they don’t say. Even these days it’s easier for correspondents to know what the Chinese think (through anonymous interviews and lurking on microblogs) than what do the Singaporeans think.

So why does the Singaporean government seem to aloof on Tan? I don’t believe that they have the share from his profit – it’s rather the very annoying Asian concept of ‘saving face’. One explanation on why do Singaporeans control the fixing industry rather than the Chinese is because the islanders speak English and the passport has very good reputation. Being a small nation, Singaporean passport holders can travel the world effortlessly under the radar. And even after this scandal is known worldwide, they are protected from law and media scrutiny simply because of that saving face thing. Not just from ‘mere outsider’ but from the Malay minority and neighbors. Chinese and Indian Singaporeans cannot afford to live with the fact that they can be baddies too. The government cannot live with the fact that it lives from dirty money. And they are lucky again – the world pays more attention for bad news from China than from the unassuming Singapore.

And so, the result was the destruction of Southeast Asian teams in the first round of 2015 AFC qualification. Jordan – Singapore 4-0. Thailand – Kuwait 1-3. Iraq – Indonesia 1-0 (that was okay, actually). Qatar – Malaysia 2-0. Vietnam – UAE 1-2. Saying that ‘we suck’ isn’t enough. Putting too much attention on English football (only for 4-5 teams, actually) while looking down on local football is the issue. Southeast Asia and China have their asses kicked by West Asia and they are supposed to angry about that, not just merely shrugging (Hong Kong got my credit for holding Uzbekistan 0-0). And yeah, Singapore disappoint again. Big time.

At least there’s a ray of hope. Tonight Buriram United join Muangthong United in representing Thailand in the AFC Champions League, after defeated Brisbane United 3-0 on penalties. Buriram’s forwards were composed by non-Thai Asians – Japanese Kai Hirano and American Anthony Ampaipitakwong. It’s actually unfortunate that Australia only has 1.5 allocation, with Uzbekistan having a very weird arrangement – 1.5 in West and 1 in East. But that means Australia, and Southeast Asia, have to fight hard to get more spots in the Champions League. Yes you, Southeast Asia.