I’m Excited about AFF 2014. Really.

Gee, I wonder where I can get all these Indonesian stuff on any Nike store in Indonesia…because I have checked stores in Jakarta and all they have are Barcelona and Manchester United.

Tonight, Southeast Asian football will look at itself. For the next one month.

The ASEAN Football Federation (ASEAN is Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Championship begins tonight with Philippines vs Laos. Of course, nobody will actually see that, so we move on to the proper opening match featuring co-host Vietnam taking on my country Indonesia. Tomorrow Malaysia will face Myanmar while the real match of the day would be between Singapore and Thailand. All the way to the second leg final on 20 December 2014, five day before Christmas and at the same day with the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup Championship final. So it’s a double treat for the winning nation (I really can’t think of anyone, really). Philippines and then Real Madrid.

That one-month long tournament idea it’s just stupid. I blame Nike. And Suzuki. And Fox Sports Asia. We can have the whole championship wrapped up just in two weeks but this is as long as the World Cup. In 2010, the prolonged tournament was a recipe for disaster for Indonesia. Indonesia did well, then president Susilo B. Yudhoyono watched Invictus and thought of himself as Nelson Mandela (Irfan Bachdim became Matt Damon) and showed up to the playoffs, effectively ruining Indonesia’s morale and integrity.

I apologize, though, for blaming Nike. Even Nike Indonesia does not take this tournament seriously. Yesterday I went to the mall and saw a display of #RiskEverything with Irfan Bachdim and his tattoos (2014 appearance for Ventforet Kofu: 0) but the Nike store had only few away shirts, probably leftover from last season. No polo or jacket or cap. In contrast, from the same mall’s Adidas outlet I have collected Japan’s jersey, t-shirt, jacket, cap, and backpack. All I have to do is wear them all and be like Joey Tribbiani.

This picture has nothing to do with Asian football.

How could the “football crazy” Indonesia cares little about the Red and White? That’s because Nike Indonesia cares little about it. That’s because the football crazy Indonesians care more about Germany, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Juventus (and Japan, in my case). That’s because we don’t think we’d win the championship, even as we are crying war. Then again, maybe so our neighbors.

So I assure you, not just Nike Indonesia (and their customers) cares about the lack of availability of Indonesia merchandises, we also don’t care about the other teams. Enemies. Opponents. Foreigners. Sports tabloids and newspapers can write a little about “players to watch” and predicted lineups, but don’t expect too much from television.

So, I take the responsibility to educate my fellow Indonesians a little about teams that Indonesia will defeat and that will defeat Indonesia, and to give an introduction to the world on Indonesia and other Southeast Asian teams.

Vietnam

Surprisingly, the ones with Japanese touch. Maybe Vietnam have taken its rivalry with China to a new level. Coach Toshiya Miura had experiences with Omiya, Sapporo, and Kobe in the 2000s. Their female supporters can be the most visible and enthusiastic ones, and the host advantage can be with them.

Foreign-based player? No.

The Ace: Le Chong Vinh, number nine. Experienced unsuccessful stints with Leixoes in 2009-10 Primeira Liga (they were the worst team) and Consadole Sapporo in 2013. Did not score in 2012 championship, though.

The Foreigner: Mac Hong Quan. Born in Czech, he was with Sparta Prague B before moving to Vietnam in 2013. Still an underachiever.

Problem Child: Dinh Thanh Trung. Left Hanoi over dispute, he played in Division 2 last season.

Philippines

The perpetual dark horses, Philippines grew from one of the worst teams in the region (and Asia) into a feared one, thanks to half-Filipino players recruited from Europe and United States. They became fine footballers and decided to play in the United Football League and dating models rather than busting their asses in European lower leagues (they still can date models there, right?). If they still can’t reach the final, blame UFL.

O yeah, their coach is Tom Dooley, one of my heroes when I supported United States in early 1990s.

Foreign-based players? Several. Goalkeeper Ronald Muller in Servette, captain Rob Gier in Ascot United, Jerry Lucena in Esbjerg, and Martin Steuble in Sporting Kansas City. Until they will play in UFL and get cozy.

The Ace: Mark Hartmann, who scored 27 goals this season with Global. Might overshadow old favorites like the Younghusband brothers.

The Foreigner: Most of the team, but the peculiar ones would be defender Daisuke Sato and midfielder Misagh Bahadoran.

The Problem Child: Surprisingly nothing, but expect them to argue with the referees and challenge other players with combative gestures.

Indonesia

Indonesia can’t let go of the big country syndrome – since we have so many people and have the biggest area, we have to be the biggest bully of the block, right? I hope new president Joko Widodo can help the team concentrate now and let publicity takes the back seat. Austrian coach Alfred Riedl worked for Vietnam again and again from late 1990s to mid 2000s.

If Indonesia makes a rip-off of Cantabile, he’s very suitable to play Franz Stresemann.

Foreign based player? Sergio van Dijk, once an attraction of A-League, plays for Suphanburi in Thailand.

The Ace: Uruguay-born Cristian Gonzales, consistently one of top scorers in Indonesian Premier League and has good record with Indonesia. At 38, however, he’s getting fatter and fatter.

The Foreigner: Besides those two, there’s the Nigeria-born defender Victor Igbonefo.

Problem Child: Being a stereotypical stern Austrian, Riedl omits Irfan Bachdim and night club regular Diego Michiels from this team. Unfortunately, he also omits IPL 2014 MVP Ferdinand Sinaga, who I believe deserves a forward spot better over van Dijk.

Laos

The Poland/Greece of Southeast Asia – you’ll need to copy and paste their names rather than typing. The lovable losers who survived the qualification run. Coached by English Dave Booth, a veteran of Indian football (and Grimsby Town’s 1973 Player of the Year).

Foreign-based player: Soukaphone Vongchiengkham (pasted) plays for Thai Division 1 club Saraburi.

The Ace: Him, maybe.

The Foreigner: None.

The Problem Child: None as far I know.

Singapore

The defending champions and eternally an annoying shrimp for its larger neighbors, at least in football. They are expected to reach semi finals, at the expense of neighbors and rivals Malaysia. They are now the only team to have an ethnic Chinese footballer.

Foreign-based players: LionsXII, where most of the players work for, compete in Malaysia Super League. Other than that, Hariss Harun plays for Johor and captain Shahril Ishak, 2012 Championship MVP, is in Johor II. Baffling, no?

The Ace: Khairul Amri, on his tenth year with the Lions and scored four goals in the 2012 Championship. This year he’s the top scorer in the Malaysia Super League who is not a Brazilian or Argentine.

The Foreigner: For the last ten years, Singapore had been powered by naturalized players from England, Nigeria, China, and former Yugoslavia. Not anymore. Gabriel Quak, on the other hand, becomes the first Singapore-born ethnic Chinese who’s good enough for the national team since Goh Tat Chuan played in early 2000s. Ironically, in Chinese-majority Singapore, his name and feature are unique for Singaporean football. Maybe just like Hugo Lloris in France.

The Problem Child: Khairul Nizam, brother to Khairul Amri, served eight matches ban in 2010 for brawl against Beijing Guoan Talent players.

Malaysia

Another favorite for the championship and have to decide who they hate most – Singapore, Thailand, or Indonesia. Coached by Dollah Salleh, the legend of late 20th century’s Asian football. If Singapore are the team to feature a Chinese player, this is the one to support if you’re into Indian footballers.

Foreign-based players: None.

The Ace: Indra Putra Mahayuddin. A favorite of 2000s, he disappeared from international football scene and stages a comeback this month.

The Foreigner: Malaysia has never naturalized any foreign star or a foreigner with Malaysian background, although they had accepted few Muslim Burmese in the past. The Indian Malaysians I talked about are Gary Steven Robbat and Kunanlan.

The Problem Child: Safee Sali. He’s a nice guy who’s got into some troubles several times. The first Malaysian who played in Indonesian Super League, he was promised number 10 shirt at Persija Jakarta but got number 55 instead. A somewhat working analogy of his time in Indonesia is like a Japanese star who plays in K-League – both Indonesians and Malaysians are okay with it and he was not heckled, but both parties saw him as tainted. In 2014 Johor almost handed him over to Selangor, but eventually he stayed with Johor.

Thailand

Difficult spellings too, but hey, it’s essential to remember their names. Traditionally seen as the big boss of Southeast Asia, they are in crazy and unstable forms in this century. This week they defeated New Zealand 2-0 but lost all their qualifications matches for Australia 2015. Like Malaysia, they entrust the national team to a national hero, Kiatisuk Senamuang – who scored 70 goals for Thailand from 1993 to 2006.

Foreign-based player: None.

The Ace: Kawin Thammasatchanan, best goalkeeper of the 2012 edition and one of the most formidable goalkeepers in Southeast Asia, standing at 185 meters (6 feet 1 inch).

The Foreigner: Charyl Chappuis, formerly a reserve player in Grasshopper Zurich and a member of Switzerland winning team at the 2009 U-17 World Cup. He graduated from Thailand U-23 last year and scored his first senior goal this year against Kuwait.

The Problem Child: Thai generals. I really want to support Thailand but if they do good, the generals will take credit for the “happiness”.

Myanmar

Who cares.

So, that’s the preview of eight teams competing in AFF Suzuki Cup 2014. As I’m writing this conclusion, Philippines have overturned a 0-1 shock from Laos into a 2-1 lead. Please enjoy this feat of Southeast Asian football since there won’t be any at the Asian Cup.

 

A History of Southeast Asia and the World Cup: 1993-2013

These stories happen most likely when you’re around.

1993: Hunger Games III

How the world had changed. West Germany, the champions of 1990 World Cup, were no longer there. Klinsmann, Matthaus, and Illgner were still around, added by some not so notable easterners like Thomas Doll and Andreas Kopke (who might be the only easterner in the German team for World Cup 94). Hipsters’ choices Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia did not exist anymore, while AFC experienced an explosion of new species.

In school I learned that Southeast Asia was essentially Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, and I only had to learn about these six countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, and Brunei) because the rest were dirty commies. But now Indonesia and Japan trumpeted their roles in building new Cambodia and United States welcomed the opening of Vietnam.

Sour Myanmar, however, still refused to join the pool party and withdrew from Group B of First Round AFC qualification, leaving Taiwan to be bullied around by Iran, Syria, and Oman. Congratulations to three unimportant Taiwanese who managed to score a single goal. You made life less painful for the goalkeeper(s).

Group C had three Southeast Asian teams including newcomers Vietnam. 1994 was a high time for Indonesian economy with buzzwords such as globalization, cyberspace, and Asian values. No such joys for the national team, who went down to group hosts Qatar 1-3 on first match. North Korea then did a one-two on Vietnam and Singapore before doing Indonesia 4-0, all just in five days. Sheez.

Singapore had their first win against Vietnam with legends Fandi Ahmad and V. Sundramoorthy, only to be smashed down again by Qatar in three days. Life got worse for Indonesia after losing 0-1 to Vietnam (Ha Vuong Ngau Nai scored). Do you want more, Indonesia? 0-2 to Singapore then, Mohammad Rafi Ali and Sundramoorthy. Trust me, Indonesia know better “Agony of Doha” than Japan. Yes, Qatar. 1-4. Both them and North Korea really had fun with the Southeast Asians, before Singapore registered 1-0 wins against Vietnam and Qatar (Ali and Ahmad). Indonesia had its only victory, a 2-1 to Vietnam, before lost by the same score to Singapore.

North Korea won this bloody group, with Singapore coming third with five wins. Singapore Lions attacking midfielder Varadaraju the Dazzler (kids, there was no S. League and Singapore played in Malaysian league) scored four goals, officially one of the best footballers in Southeast Asia this year. Indonesian press were so unhappy with the seven defeats.

In Group E, Malaysia were lucky enough to be put with Macau and to host the group. Azman Adnan equalized against Kuwait and Malaysia had their second draws to Saudi Arabia. Sexy time came against Macau with Adnan scored a hattrick while both Azizol Abu Haniffah and Abdul Mokhtar scored two goals. 9-0. Then the matches were moved to Riyadh and bad times came with both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia scored five on Malaysia between them. At least there were Macau. 5-0 this time with two more goals from Adnan and Paramasivan Ravindran. So we had Sundramoorthy from Singapore and now Adnan (who played in Selangor) from Malaysia. What about Thailand?

Too bad for Thailand, they were grouped with Japan and UAE. The 1992 champions of Asia, so eager to travel to United States, kicked off with 1-0 win to Thailand. Three days later in Tokyo, Thailand won 1-0 to Sri Lanka (Kiatisuk Senamuang) – and lost with the same score to UAE. Thailand then defeated its nemesis (this is a nerdy trivia question: “Who were Thailand’s World Cup qualification rivals in 1980s and early 1990s?”) Bangladesh again, 4-1, with a hattrick by Piyapong Pue-on.

In Dubai, Thailand lost to Japan and UAE before defeating the South Asians with five goals scored by Piyapong Pue-on, the Royal Thai Air Force striker. A bittersweet but promising year for Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, and a completely forgettable year for Indonesia.

"Why 1990's Singapore rocks". I agree.

“Why 1990’s Singapore rocks”. I agree.

1997: Football in the Time of Cholera

1997 ended the roaring 1990s for Asia abruptly – Thai Bath collapsed and with it Thai, Malaysian, Korean, and Indonesian economies (all built upon weak and corrupt foundations). Japan, who had struggled with recession since 1991, experienced mounting social problems evident in manga Great Teacher Onizuka.

Of course, no one knew what was coming in March, when Azman Adnan scored again against Bangladesh, held Saudi Arabia goalless, and took it easy against Taiwan. Things went sour as usual away from Kuala Lumpur – Taiwan held Malaysia 0-0 and Saudi scored three. Naturally Malaysia defeated Bangladesh again but that’s all about it.

In Jakarta, Indonesia had fun 8-0 against Cambodia before disappointingly held by Yemen – and by Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Bad memories of 1993 reappeared and came true. After two draws with Uzbekistan and Yemen, Uzbekistan killed off Indonesia 3-0 in Tashkent, two weeks before the deluge of 2 July.

Thailand braced themselves against South Korea and Hong Kong, appearing for the last time with its British colonial flag (before flying its Chinese colonial flag next semester). Piyapong Pue-on equalized early in second half before Ha Seok-ju and Choi Moon-sik put down Thai resistance. Thailand defeated Hong Kong 2-0 at home, before it was revealed in November that four Hong Kong players bet their losses for two goals. Such low lives. Hong Kong defeated Thailand 3-2 at home, and so their defensive play in the last match against South Korea were meaningless. Looking from their World Cup records, it’s astonishing that Thailand were seen as the big boys of Southeast Asia in the 20th century.

It was worse for Singapore…were the signs of the fall down actually visible early in the year? Asians intoxicated with Spice Girls, David Beckham, and Netscape Navigator certainly didn’t see it coming. Singapore simply had no chance against Kuwait and Lebanon, two easy opponents they should have overcome. Singapore would stand tall during the financial crisis thanks to steady influx of Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai money.

Finally, the Philippines. After decades, they finally got their hands on football and lost to Qatar, Sri Lanka, and India. The end.

 

2001: Without Japan and South Korea

Japan and Republic of Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup, everyone had recovered from the financial crisis and enjoyed the new millennium. Laos and Philippines were grouped together so they could see which one were worse: the Philippines, who Laos defeated 2-0 and held 1-1. Other than that, they were both shooting practices for Oman and Syria.

Malaysia had the honor of playing football with Palestine, the rallying point of the Muslim world. But first they had to endure 5-1 beating by Qatar before Akmal Rakhli scored two past Hong Kong. Unfortunately, they lost both to Palestine and Hong Kong before defeating Palestine 4-3 in a battle royal before lucky 400 people in Doha on 25 March 2001. I need the footage of this match uploaded on YouTube, please. Rakhli from amateur French club FCSR Haguenau (a reject of Strasbourg) scored two goals again.

Singapore football was still in slump. Draws with Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan and losses against everyone else.

Thailand, meanwhile, became the first Southeast Asians since Indonesia in 1985 to pass the first stage. They got an easy group consisted of Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and they took the chance well with goals from Seksan Piturat (Sinthana), Kiatisuk Senamuang (Raj Pracha), and Sakesan Pituratna. Oh wait, this is actually Piturat. So did he change his name or different spelling or what?

There was this group where Brunei met India, Yemen, and UAE. Humiliation ensued.

Finally, Indonesia kicked off its campaign with five past Maldives. Then six past Cambodia. Two again to Cambodia. Two to Maldives. Wonderful. And theeeen…they met China. China won twice. Close but no cigars. But nothing to shame of. Except for the unrealistic Indonesian press.

Vietnam also did well against Bangladesh and Mongolia, but not against Saudi Arabia.

Because of Thailand, I have to continue my story instead of moving on. Without Japan and South Korea (sourpuss North Korea didn’t participate as they didn’t want to visit both nice places),  there were these seven Arab states, Iran, Uzbekistan, and Thailand. Thailand were slammed 0-4 on first day by Iraq before held Iran 0-0 in Bangkok. The pattern continued – drew and losses with five goals scored by Piturat, Senamuang, Sutee Suksomsit (Thai Farmers Bank. Remember them?), and Worrawoot Srimaka (BEC Tero Sasana). OK Thailand, you have done what Malaysia cannot.

Nobody dyed their hair blond. I'm disappointed.

Nobody dyed their hair blond. I’m disappointed.

2004: No Second Place

Either other nations got better in football or Southeast Asia got worse in football. Both then. Laos lost to Sri Lanka but something happened: Guam and Nepal both withdrew and FIFA picked a lucky loser – Laos whose loss less severe compared to Bangladesh, Macau, and such. Iran, Jordan, and Qatar thanked them.

Singapore’s woes continued by losing 0-1 to India, 1-2 to Japan, and then 0-7 to Oman. D’oh. 3600 people who kept their hope high watched Singapore defeated India 2-0 at Jalan Besar Stadium with goals from Indra Sahdan and Khairul Mohammad.

You should see Malaysia tho. After decades of coming close to the next round, this time they were utterly simply verily destroyed by Kuwait, China, and unbelievably, Hong Kong. Twice.

Things seemed predictable first for Thailand – lost to UAE, won against Yemen, lost to North Korea, lost to North Korea again. Whoops. They got their act together and superbly defeated UAE 3-0 (Anon Nanok, Thredsak Chaiman, and Jiensathawong Jakapong – now known as Nontapan Jeansatawong…I don’t create bad luck for him for writing his old name, do I?) before held 1-1 by Yemen.

Vietnam did well against Maldives, but not against Lebanon and South Korea.

Ditto for Indonesia. Losing to Turkmenistan (start of a rivalry forgotten by Indonesians) 1-3, they didn’t convince anyone with narrow win and a draw against Sri Lanka, lost again to Saudi Arabia, before Ilham Jaya Kesuma (Tangerang) scored three past Turkmenistan.

No second place, because all Southeast Asia were in third and fourth places.

 

2007-2008: Three-Stages Vetting

Let’s try something new – Asian countries except Japan, South Korea, and prodigal sons Australia must prove their worth first. So Thailand put 13 past Macau, Myanmar received 11 from China, Vietnam were destroyed by UAE, Malaysia lost to Bahrain, newcomers Timor Leste lost to Hong Kong (playing their home match in Indonesia), Singapore defeated Palestine 4-0 in Doha and were awarded 3-0 victory when Israel prevented Palestine players from leaving Gaza Strip and denied them the chance of admiring the Changi Airport. Indonesia got it easy against Guam.

Next, Thailand and Singapore defeated Yemen and Tajikistan respectively while Indonesia, after lost 1-4 to Syria at home, threw the game away by immersing themselves in a series of demotivational seminars and book discussion. The result? Syria 7 Indonesia 0. That’s the spirit.

So Thailand were grouped with Japan, Bahrain, and Oman while Singapore were with Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. By June 2008 Thailand had known where they were heading – losses to Japan and Bahrain and draw with Oman. No, they did not score any win.

Singapore, meanwhile, defeated Lebanon 2-0. After a decade of agony, Singapore decided to ask foreigners playing in the S. League who were charmed with the clean and safe streets, the lavish malls, the beautiful women and the impossibility to play for England, Nigeria, China, and Australia to play for the Lions instead. The results: Awesomeness and increased jealousy from neighbors. They heroically lost 3-7 to Uzbekistan, then got foolish and fielded Qiu Li, whose transfer of citizenship from China to Singapore had not cleared. Uzbekistan won 1-0 but FIFA awarded the 3-0 result. Qiu Li played again when Singapore lost to Saudi Arabia 0-2. In the end, Singapore defeated Lebanon 2-1 with Baihakki Khaizan and Ramez Dayoub scored own goals for both teams. Never mind the FIFA sanction – the naturalization model worked. How else you would defeat Lebanon?

 

2011-2012: Never mind the World Cup. Let’s try being good in football first.

So here we are. Oh okay, 2011 happened three years ago. Right. Mohammad Safiq Rahim (Selangor) and Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak (Negeri Sembilan/ATM FA) scored against Taiwan, with a twist. Taiwan heroically won their home match 3-2 and thus lost to Malaysia by away goal rule.

Philippines, playing the naturalization game by recruiting half-Filipinos boys in Europe and United States who played football (there were plenty of them!) defeated Sri Lanka. Without naturalization (well) Vietnam put 13 past Macau while Timor Leste, sporting Brazilian names and Australian grass root spirit, conceded seven Nepalese goals instead.

In the second round, Thailand defeated Palestine 1-0 and passed the round in dramatic fashion – Murad Alyan scored in the injury time only for Datsakorn Thonglao to equalize at the last chance. Laos managed to score three past China, which was good enough for a team receiving 13. Indonesia-Turkmenistan showdown happened again, and at least now Indonesia fighting properly – after a 1-1 draw in Asghabat, they gave all before 88 thousand crowds in Jakarta and Uruguay-born Cristian Gonzalez (who met his Indonesian wife in Uruguay instead of Indonesia) scored a brace. Actually Indonesia led 4-1 before the lapse defense gave supporters double heart attacks in the last 10 minutes.

No such luck for the German and English Filipinos as Kuwait put five against them and FIFA awarded Oman two 3-0 wins over Myanmar due to crowd trouble (they hurled objects to Oman’s goal while singing the national anthem) in Yangon. Qatar defeated Vietnam and here’s the real deal: Singapore v Malaysia.

Apparently only 6000 Singaporeans (maybe a good number of them were actually Malaysians) interested to see this “Causeway Derby” (come on, we need a scarier name. Singapore is the only nation in history to be expelled from a union. Imagine the Scots insisted to stay in union with the English, but the English could not take it anymore and declared instead of granted the independence of Scotland). In this battle royale, Safee Sali (Pelita Jaya) scored directly from kick off while Aleks Duric (Tampines) equalized in seven minutes. Singapore led 4-1 at half time, but on the second half Abdul Hadi (Terengganu) and Safee scored, before Duric sealed the victory for Singapore. Here are the highlights and all videos I found on YouTube on this match supported Malaysia.

90 thousand Malaysians crowded Bukit Jalil Stadium on 28 July 2011 and Safee scored to make the aggregate 5-4. Chinese born Shi Jiayi equalized and Singapore won the derby, kicking out Malaysia from the competition. Securities cordoned Singaporean supporters and they were permitted to leave only after the stadium was cleared from Malaysian supporters.

So once more, Singapore and Thailand represented Southeast Asia for the third round. Singapore lost all matches against China, Jordan, and Iraq while Thailand defeated Oman 3-0 (Sompong Soleb from Bangkok United, Teerasil Dangda from Muangthong United, and own goal from Rashid al Farsi) and held Saudi Arabia 0-0. Other than that, they lost to Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

One last thing: Indonesia.

 

Epilogue

There’s the cruel parody of Lightning Seeds’ “Three Lions” which I remember goes like “Three Lions on a shirt/Luiz Scolari still grinning/Thirty(forty? fifty?) years of horror/never stops me from screaming”. It’s the same way in Southeast Asia. We’ve recruited Europeans with blood relations, we’ve naturalized foreigners playing in our leagues, we’ve partnered with European clubs, we’ve hired big has-beens as coaches, and Southeast Asia still couldn’t defeat the Arabs who seemed didn’t have to try. At least now we’ve been good against South Asians although FIFA ranks them higher than us.

Both Southeast Asians and West Asians glue themselves to couch clad in Real Madrid jerseys, play wicked Winning Eleven, and making online comments about how crap Cristiano is. Then after despairing about the national team, both of us admire Japan, their bushido spirit and Captain Tsubasa and all, sparing no positive thought for South Korea and Australia.

We have our hometown heroes, our childhood memories, and it’s good that in this age of Twitter and Instagram, we feel we are too rich and royal to support the local club but we are so proud of our national players who are either half-white or coming from the same ethnicity with us. We buy their jerseys from the Nike store in our favorite malls.

But you know one thing we lack of? Unlike the Japanese, we don’t bust our asses playing football. We are nations of DIFM (Do It For Me), not DIY (Do It Yourself). I don’t know how the Saudis got their World Cups, but that’s how Japan, Australia, and Republic of Korea qualify again and again.

Great stuff. How's the football?

Great stuff. How’s the football?

A History of Southeast Asia & the World Cup: 1934-1989

These days with World Cup 2014 video game I’m playing around the Southeast Asian teams. Hm, Singapore do have some Singapore-born Chinese, like Joey Sim and Andrew Tan (actually there are only two of them). I wish I could enjoy Indonesia better but nah, although I’m happy that EA still rates them stronger than Malaysia and Vietnam (that’s weird.)

So, rather than previewing Australia, Japan, and Korea in the World Cup (ready for the mess?), I want to tell you stories on how did Southeast Asia keep failing in their World Cup campaigns.

1934-1954: One and Only Dutch East Indies

Asia, 1934. The whole continent was under European, American, and Japanese rules with the exception of fractured China. The Europeans and Americans had introduced football in Philippines, Southeast Asia, and Western Asia. Some ethnic-based clubs had been formed for identity bonding and nationalism, just like migrants in Canada, Australia, Brazil, and United States formed their sporting clubs. The Japanese, meanwhile, were more into baseball and lovingly taught that sport to the Taiwanese.

Since no one in East Asia wanted to sail all the way to Italy, no country or territory was interested with the 1934 World Cup. Three Middle Eastern (now only one of them is in AFC) countries were in Group 12 – Egypt, Palestine (consisted of nine British, six Jews, and an Arab), and Turkey who withdrew. So Palestine might be the first Asian team in the World Cup, and this Palestine was the precursor to modern Israeli and Palestine national teams.

Indonesian media love to point out that Indonesia were the first Asian team in the World Cup. With the caveat that it competed under the name Dutch East Indies back in 1938 and they lost to Hungary 0-6 in first round. That’s all. No more story.

Indeed there was no Indonesia back in 1938, there were Dutch East Indies. Only them and Japan were available in the Asian group – I wonder what had happened to French Indochina (while France hosted the World Cup) and the Philippines (United States were regulars at 1930s World Cup). The British Empire naturally were too arrogant to join the continental tournament. So Japan withdrew since they were too busy killing the Chinese and preparing for the invasion of Asia, leaving Dutch East Indies sailing across the Indian Ocean to France.

Here is the roster of the Dutch East Indies squad against Hungary and their supposed ethnicity:

Goalkeeper: Tan Mo Heng (Chinese, HTCNH)

Defenders: Frans Hu Kon (Chinese, Sparta), Jack Kolle (Dutch/Eurasian…maybe even Jew, Excelsior)

M: Sutan Anwar (Minang, VIOS), Frans Meeng (Chinese, probably, SVVB) (captain), Achmad Nawir (Javanese, probably, HBS)

F: Frans Taihuttu (Moluccan, Jong Ambon), Henk Zomers (Dutch/Eurasian, Hercules), Tan Hong Djien (Chinese, Tiong Hoa), Suvarte Soedarmadji (Javanese, HBS), Tjaak Pattiwael (Moluccan, Jong Ambon)

Coach: Johan Mastenbroek

And introducing the plushie.

And introducing the plushie.

Some 2-3-5 it was. You can see why modern Indonesia is not too proud of them – too many Dutch and Chinese for modern Indonesian liking (supposedly Muslim Indonesians have no problem with the Christian South Mollucans/Ambonese, which still contributed many players to the national team until 1980s). 9000 people watched the match in Reims on 5 June 1938 where Hungary took 4-0 lead by half time.

Fast forward to 1950 and Asia was wrecked by Second World War. The communists took power in China, independence wars raged over Vietnam and Indonesia, pro-American governments were busily snuffing communism out in Japan and South Korea, India still mourned the loss of Gandhi, and communist rebellion took place in Malaya. Philippines seemed to be the only orderly place in Asia.

Philippines, however, could not afford sailing to Brazil and so they withdrew, along with Indonesia and Burma. India withdrew for one of two reasons – either because they could not play barefoot, or because they also could not afford the trip. Maybe both of them. FIFA gave up looking for a replacement.

In 1954 only East Asians contested the qualification. Republic of China withdrew so the South Koreans began the long tradition of kicking Japanese asses with a satisfying 5-1 match in Tokyo.

 

1957-1969: Withdraw, Withdraw!

Indonesia were back as the muscle of Southeast Asia (pretty much because no one else competed). Anti-communist Republic of China withdrew, knowing that if they won, they must face something more repulsive than Indonesia – the People’s Republic. The 2-0 victory against China in Jakarta is still a legend of Indonesian football history, along with 0-0 draw against Soviet Union in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Gowan (in South Sulawesi) Ramang, who grew up playing foot volley and thus a master of volleys and scissor kicks, scored both goals. He would score two more goals in the away match in Beijing, in which Indonesia lost 3-4, and Indonesia passed by better goal average (after a pointless 0-0 third match in Burma).

In the Second Round, Indonesia and Egypt spectacularly withdrew because there were Israel. Sudan agreed to move on only to change their minds in the final round. FIFA, however, could not let Israel go to Sweden without winning any match, but even Belgium refused to play them (did Belgium have any interest in Muslim world at this time?) so Wales grabbed the ticket after defeating Israel 2-0 twice. Indonesia threw away its big chance because of religious and quasi-communist politics. Ramang himself would be disgraced in 1960 with accusation of bribery, which was more likely a slander related to political struggles between communists, Islamists, and the Army.

Indonesia blew another chance in 1961 as it withdrew from a three way competition against South Korea and Japan. Certainly Sukarno’s quixotic “revolution” has alienated Indonesia in the region and apparently Indonesia did not like South Korea enough, although Sukarno loved Japan – his new wife was a geisha provided by Toyota, Naoko Nemoto. Korea kicked out Japan again before going down to Yugoslavia in intercontinental playoff. By this time I believe it’s safe to say that Filipinos didn’t care about football.

1965 was an even weirder time. All African teams withdrew and only two Asian teams were available (keywords: Southeast Asia. Domino Theory). Both of them were from the Korean peninsula. Australia finally went into the picture while South Africa, grouped in the Oceania Confederation of Football, were banned. North Korea refused to play in the imperialist land of Japan (which had lost interest in football, thanks to South Korea) and South Korea refused to play in Cambodia, so South Korea said anyong. North Korea gleefully kicked out Australia 6-1 and 3-1, with German-Australian Les Scheinflug scored both goals (I don’t really care about North Korea).

Apparently 1969 was still not a good time for Southeast Asia to compete, although Indonesia had joined the anti-communist bandwagon, securing peace in the region south of South China Sea. South Korea met its foil Australia while still taking the pleasure of beating Japan. In the end, Israel qualified to Mexico.

Everybody hated us.

Everybody hated us.

 

1973-1989: I Couldn’t Believe Thailand were that Bad

In 1973, South Vietnam, which was on the verge of collapse, competed. Surprisingly, they defeated Thailand 1-0 in Seoul while Malaysia went down to Hong Kong 0-1. In the next round South Vietnam were eliminated by both Hong Kong and Japan. Israel and South Korea aced Group 2 while finally the first match between Southeast Asian teams took place: Malaysia defeated Thailand 2-0 on 23 May 1973 in Seoul thanks to Rahim Abdullah and Harun Jusoh. South Korea naturally topped the group.

Indonesia, meanwhile, were grouped together with Iraq, Australia, and New Zealand. A bit weird arrangement. Maybe AFC and FIFA wanted to prevent another walk out by separating Indonesia and Iraq as far as possible from Israel (curiously, Muslim Malaysia had no trouble playing Israel – they lost 0-3). In a tiring six matches marathon over twenty days in Melbourne and Sydney, Indonesia scored only a victory over New Zealand, thanks to Maurice Tillotson’s own goal. So Australia went on to defeat Iran and then South Korea.

AFC and FIFA played a little sadistic hunger game in 1977 – grouped all Southeast Asian teams in one block. Over 15 days in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore (first appearance), and Hong Kong were beating each other (Sri Lanka withdrew early). The hosts looked strong before being trumped 0-4 by Indonesia at the last day, and so Hong Kong walked away as the winners. From these four Southeast Asian countries, only Singapore, powered by Quah Kim Song, managed to score two wins in this group. In the final round, Hong Kong would lose all their matches against Iran, South Korea, Kuwait, and Australia.

In 1981, the Southeast Asians were spread into different groups and there was no assigned host for Group 1. So the Indonesians traveled to Suva, Auckland, Melbourne, and Taipei, to the joy of PSSI suits and their wives. Indonesia scored two home victories, 1-0s against Taiwan (officially called Chinese Taipei now) and Australia. New Zealand, instead of Australia, topped the group.

Malaysia and Thailand found themselves on the same group again over a week in Kuwait City. 2-2 and another shock – South Korea failed to top the group.

Finally, the Singaporeans spent a Christmas in Hong Kong, drew with Hong Kong and lost to North Korea (North Korea didn’t have problem playing in an imperialist British colony. That’s also new).

Malaysia tripped South Korean’s start on 10 March 1985 with a 1-0 victory in Kuala Lumpur (Dollah Saleh). The next week, they defeated Nepal 2-0 (Hassan Sani and James Wong) and looked like South Korea’s campaign would be killed off soon. Zainal Hassan scored a hattrick against Nepal in Kuala Lumpur (5-0) and the last match in Seoul was the decider. The Koreans scored early and Malaysia were kicked out despite three wins – Korea passed through goal average – 7 to Malaysia’s 6. That was really hurt.

Indonesia also rampaged early with victories against Thailand, India, and Bangladesh and Bambang Nurdiansyah and Dede Sulaiman became the stars. After first away victory to Thailand, Indonesia petered out and lost to Bangladesh and drew with India, but enough to top the group. Thailand were only able to defeat Bangladesh 3-0 at home.

Brunei, recently independent from United Kingdom, started off by receiving goals from Macau, Hong Kong, and China. End of story. Singapore were also unfortunate enough to be grouped with Japan and North Korea, although they managed to draw North Korea 1-1 at home.

In the next round, Indonesia lost to South Korea. Thus ended the legend of Sundanese Dede Sulaiman.

The hair. The shorts. The moustaches.

The hair. The shorts. The mustache.

The hunger games returned in 1989: South Korea were grouped together with Malaysia and Singapore. Korea won EVERY match without letting anyone scored against them, while Malaysia and Singapore scored victories against Nepal. Singapore and Malaysia drew 2-2, anyway.

Thailand, meanwhile, delighted with 1-0 victory against Bangladesh before going down repeatedly to China, Iran, and yes, Bangladesh. How humiliating it was.

Finally, Indonesia became the champions of draws by holding both North Korea and Japan 0-0 in Jakarta and Hong Kong 1-1. Their only victory was only 3-2 win against Hong Kong which supposedly was a good spectacle: trailing 0-1 for one hour, Mustaqim equalized only for Nang Yan Leung to score again at the 64th minute. Then Herry Kiswanto scored ten minutes later and one minute before full time to turn the table, denying Hong Kong its only victory in the group.

 

(*Look, I hope somebody has the television footage of this match and kindly uploads it to YouTube. 250 million Indonesians will thank you*)

Those are the stories of qualification for now. Since the Cold War was ending, over the next four years more countries would join in the Asian qualification. Part 2, 1993-2013, is coming up.

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.

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.

The Header Picture Post

Look at the small picture to your left. What do you see? People – Asians – sitting on football skinned bean bag chairs. Clever, eh? I decided on the image when browsing for pictures of Asians enjoying football or something like that. It comes from a Christian Science Monitor story asking a big question after Japan 3 Denmark 1 in 2010 World Cup: Africans are enthusiastically supporting all African teams. Why can’t Asians support Asian teams? 0628-OASIANOT-asian-solidarity-soccer_full_600

That summer I joined Guardian Football’s Fan Network, where supporters of the 32 teams duked it out on Twitter. Three Asians joined. I, a Chinese-Indonesian who supported Republic of Korea. An Indian woman who supported England. And an Indian man who supported Germany. There were five supporters of Japan, all British blokes. Two other supporters of Korea, two British blokes. And a supporter of North Korea, an aging British bloke. And oh, Aussies who supported Australia. Supporters of African nations outside South Africa (all white South Africans) were African students in Britain.

So, maybe it’s just no Korean or Japanese student read Guardian Football. During the Japan v Denmark match, an infuriated Indonesian felt that the MBM’s host was belittling Japan. I wanted to ask him to chill, but I was busy following tweet feeds and tweeting on the match, plus I thought somebody did need to stand up for Japan – I warned indirectly a Brazilian who kept saying that Japanese matches were ‘boring and (were) the worst.’

My experiences were in accordance to the CSM article, that said that Africans – plagued in recent times by the largest and most brutal proxy wars after the end of Cold War – believed in a thing called pan-Africanism. They see African nations standing together against more favored South American and European rivals. Whatever the language and religion, the feeling of African unity was more than Coca-Cola marketing ploy.

On the other hand, Koreans and Chinese like to see Japan go down. Some Australians put great interest and respect on Japanese football, but many still believe that the default tactic against Japan is to ‘use long balls and force corners’. The Chinese and Arabs have been applauding Australia’s downfall ever since 2006. I was invited to a football-theme party right after the final, and so I wore a Korean shirt. Many people were bemused and asking why I didn’t wear red and yellow Spanish color. My answer was “I don’t support Spain. South Korea is my team”. Nor they did, but Spain were the champions.

The guy in the center wears a Spanish replica jersey. The picture was taken in Beijing during the 2010 World Cup. It’s taken inside a shopping mall and men and women in the picture had their attentions fixed on several different things – kids, smartphones, the ceiling. Most Asians supported Spain, Brazil, Germany, Argentina, England, and Netherlands during the tournament. Because they had famous players, because they won often, because they were big. Some hip people went for Japan (still respected in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, partly thanks to Captain Tsubasa and PES) or Ghana. But no one supported Korea outside Korean expats (and me. And I had not enough guts to visit a Korean BBQ joint during the match day. I’m not an English blogger, you know). Some weirdos rooted for North Korea because it’s a ‘cool country’ (and many South Koreans did, of course) but they couldn’t name a player (I could name half the team who play in J-League & Europe).

Indonesian pundits are also very ignorant of Indonesia’s football rivals. Who’s number 10 for Thailand? Euh, “A Thai player”. And number 4 for Hong Kong? “Hong Kong player”. All they needed was a team sheet and trying to spot the number, in case the name is not printed on the shirt. But never mind Ampaipitakwong (the Texan has decided to represent Thailand), they were too lazy to say Mohd Amri Yahyah. It’s the ‘why should I bother humanizing a foreigner?’ mindset. All rivals are supposed to lay down and die for Irfan Bachdim, Andik Vermansyah, and Boaz Solossa.

Therefore, the idea for a Southeast Asian super league is not feasible. Never mind Indonesia, I was surprised to know that Thailand has the only functional league in Southeast Asia. Vietnam – No money. Singapore – nobody sees. Philippines – amateurish. Indonesia – two rival leagues who agree to come clean next year so let’s hope so. Reuters did say about match fixing in Malaysia but I couldn’t find any article on that.

Selangor vs Tampines! Booya! I'm so watching this! But Fox said "Scheduled program preempted. Sorry"!

Selangor vs Tampines! Booya! I’m so watching this! But Fox said “Scheduled program preempted. Sorry”!

And so Thailand is the only association playing the Champions League and they hold themselves well, compared to past performances of Singaporean and Indonesian clubs (okay, I was talking about Buriram). Semen Padang have been so good in the AFC Cup, and oh, about Persibo Bojonegoro. They were in the tournament after winning the Indonesian Cup, but the financial troubles and low morale persisted. And so, when they went to Tsing Yi to face Sun Hei with 12 players, that’s really everyone they had.

8-0 for Sun Hei and match abandoned after 65 minutes after Persibo players literally rolled over and died (well, not died). Reactions from both sides illustrated the disconnection of Asia. Sun Hei’s coach said “We know that Indonesians are dirty at sports, but this is a new low.” Persibo’s fans said the match was fixed since “The Hong Kong side were supposedly much weaker than Persibo,” (yeah? How do you know? Because they are Chinese from Hong Kong they are not supposed to know how to play football, you think?)

And then, this month two Malaysian owners of British clubs made headlines for different reasons. Vincent Tan’s Cardiff City go up, with still mixed feelings from both fans and the press, while Tony Fernandes’ QPR go down, and many say that they’ll find life in the Championship will not be easy. A terrible finale for Park Ji-sung’s career. And I agree with those who say that QPR is not a diversification – it’s a very expensive promotion vehicle for Air Asia. So, Malaysians have the money but they don’t use it for home renovation (with respect, Malaysia and Malaysia U23 have shown some passion, but well, the state of the league), and same goes for the Qataris and Emirates.

Nice plane.

Nice plane.

And so the header picture is about how Asia treats football. A commodity to watch and buy, not to play and develop. Except in Australia, Japan, and Korea.

Sing Sing Sing

The largest football stadium in Singapore. During a matchday.

The largest football stadium in Singapore. During a matchday.

I went to Singapore recently. It’s a delight for any Indonesian to go to Singapore, especially a Chinese. 1.5 hour flight and suddenly homie we major. The streets are clean and orderly and you can actually walk on the pavement (and there’s such thing as a pavement/sidewalk).

And the met. In Indonesia you only see train scenes when watching anime and probably Korean drama (and some American action movies), there it’s the real thing. With office girls and school girls preoccupied with their Galaxy Notes (iPhone was so last year). Going here and there at anytime without worry. I stayed outside until 11 pm in places far away from downtown and I was happy. And yeah, the people in Singapore were friendlier than in Indonesia. Go figure.

Oh, football. First, the boycott on S. League is still on effect. Not that it makes much difference – ordinary Singaporean is indifferent about the league. What matters are Manchester United, Barcelona, Milan, England and Spain. But the city is overall pretty sterile from football environment, even during the World Cup qualification week. At least outdoor.

I did not find anyone wear football jersey. I did pass a suburbia field where Chinese, Indian, and Malay teens played football together, and that’s about it. The Adidas and Nike shops were like the ones I used to visit in Bandung when vainly hoping for Japanese and Korean merchandise (and actually finding some good stuff randomly).

The winner was Goal@313, 313 Somerset mall. They sold Japan jersey, Kashima and Hiroshima jerseys (premium price), and complete jerseys from all over Southeast Asia (what I really hate about Indonesian fandom is that it’s really aloof about Southeast Asian football, bordering on racist ignorance). I settled for a Singapore polo shirt since a) it’s not something you’ll find elsewhere and b) I’d just love wearing that stuff in Bandung, like screaming out “I’m Chinese”. I could buy Japan 13-14 kit online with cheaper price (the shirt, not the shipping cost), if they’re doing great in the Confederations Cup. O yeah, every staff in the shop was male Malay, with one wearing Loic Remy’s Marseille jersey. They were reviewing European qualification goals on a smartphone.

Japan, however, blew it away. I had worn “My Team is South Korea” shirt days before and reserved the “Japan 2011 Champions” (Asian champions and Women’s world champions) for Wednesday. God they were unbelievable. It was not unlucky. It was horrible. On Wednesday morning I pondered on wearing that shirt. Would people care? But then again, I was to go to Chinatown that day, and nowadays there are a lot of Chinese FOBs (Fresh Off Boat) there. So no. It’s your fault, Al Z. And CSKA, for holding Honda.

So outdoor, Singaporeans are not so crazy about football. News were buzzing about World Cup qualification results, including from Asia (Indonesian media care less about the AFC, anyway), and local news also featured results from the S. League. But I did get the impression that football is seen as a Malay sport here, maybe similar to how France is seeing football as an African sport. The Chinese are more into swimming and table tennis (watched a table tennis match in an alley).

I often think what my life would be had I been born in Singapore. Would I still be a liberal? Would I still went ‘back’ to Singapore after graduated from Australia, or would the drive to migrate to Australia was even stronger? I had thought that had I was good in mathematics and swimming and was born in Singapore, I’d join the Navy. I also had a thought that I could be a policeman, although it’s a pity that I couldn’t arrest Dan Tan and put him behind the bars. The only police action I saw was interrogating a geeky punk in front of the train station.

So, that was that. I am sure had I not been boycotting the S. League, I’d have spared some time to watch a football match. It’s easy to reach the stadiums, I know the teams and the key players, and the football scene is so safe. And I want to know how many Chinese were watching the game.

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.

Where the Players are Coming from

May he prosper in Singapore

May he prosper in Singapore

Around two years ago I had discussed naturalization, and this year’s AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Cup features three teams with plenty of naturalized players – Singapore, Philippines, and Indonesia.

The Singaporeans are leftovers from a decade long project, but they are in the final. Shi Jiayi and Qiu Li, born in China, are 29 and 31 years old respectively. So does Sarajevo native Fahrudin Mustafic, and Daniel Bennett (34) came from England. One of the deadliest strikers in Southeast Asia, Aleksandar Duric, is 42. I wouldn’t be surprised if a fan put on their heads over the bodies of The Expendables.

Philippines and Indonesia invested in young bloods from Europe with different results. Philippines remain the dark horses of Southeast Asian football and no SE Asian team now can be confident they can secure win against the Street Dogs (yep, the nickname itself is quiet un-Asian). Indonesia received little support with the FA civil war lingers on and fans greeted the 0-2 defeat to Malaysia with little emotion. The prevailing mood was “I’ve told you so.”

Actually, naturalization is hardly the business of Asian nations too lazy to develop homegrown players. Both England and Australia are recruiting migrants from Africa, like Wilfried Zaha and Emmanuel Frimpong (England) or Kofi Danning and Bernie Ibini-isei (Australia). In the case of England (less likely with Australia), the FA is aware that some players can still opt to play for their countries of birth.

When the naturalization debate began in Indonesia five years ago, many commentators erroneously cited the example of France – they said that Zinedine Zidane and Marcel Desailly were also naturalized. I wouldn’t be surprised if several Indonesians believe that Mario Balotelli is naturalized (heck, even some Italians refuse to accept that he is Italian). My definition for a player who is naturalized is someone who had spent a good deal of his life in a country and played football there (i.e. joining a football club) before moving somewhere else. This definition sticks for most players in Asia (e.g. Singapore, Qatar, and Indonesia).

That is because you hardly have people from elsewhere migrating to Asia and raising kids there. Japan makes an exception. Until last year I thought that Mike Havenaar was a son of a Dutch and Japanese, rather than a Dutch who was born in Japan. In early 1990s Japan did naturalize adult Brazilians such as Ruy Ramos and Wagner Lopes, but in the last ten years Japan features one of the most multicultural national teams in Asia, and they are made in Japan – Havenaar, Tadanari Lee, Ariajusuru Hasegawa, and Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Alex Santos in the past (well, Santos finished his school in Japan). I’m still waiting for an Asian Socceroo. Their closest counterparts in Asia might be English Hong Kongers like Michael Campion and Jaimes McKee (a midnight child – his family came to Hong Kong in 1997).

Filipinos can be defensive about their footballers, worried that outsiders accusing them of playing cheap. Of course, it’s fair for them to recruit half-Filipinos, rather than arranging a Brazilian or Nigerian to switch citizenship (did Emerson wave the flag of Qatar yesterday?). Actually, that what Singapore did, and it was bit lazy – rather than owing to the virtue of immigration. I’d be happier (and no doubt many Singaporeans would be) if they look for Western footballers with a Singaporean parent (isn’t that wonderful that many half-Filipino kids in Europe and USA are boys who choose footballing as a career?) or develop migrant kids in Singapore to become footballers, the way Japan does. While there could be, could be, not enough white French footballers in France, definitely there is not enough Chinese and non-Muslim Indian footballers in Singapore.

What’s the outlook of the future of Singapore’s football? Well, the naturalization program is still living, seeing that Jonathan Toto and Sirina Camara (France) and Sherif El-Masri (Canada) are in the Young Lions. There are certainly more Chinese names, like Emeric Ong, Gary Lee, and even Benjamin Lee, whose mother is Danish. Certainly it’s quite fair to say that in Singapore, footballing (playing professionally, that is) is a Muslim affair. But seems Chinese Singaporeans are able to live with it like white French supporters do with Les Blues.

Aren’t You Entertained?!

I might rue the premature usage of that holy phrase. It might be more fitting for the night of the ugly and highly controversial 2-2 overtime match between Ulsan and Hiroshima in December (although nasty Japan v Korea matches are probably strictly for the national teams), or when Japan go down 3-4 to Brazil after 0-3 half time deficit in 2013 Confederations Cup.

But my god will you look at that.

His name is Andik Vermansyah. 21 years old, 162 cm tall, attacking midfielder. In the dying minutes of last night’s ASEAN Football Fed Cup match against Singapore, he passed Daniel Bennett and unfortunately failed to unsettle goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud – but he was on that Ronaldo’s (as opposed to Cristiano Ronaldo’s) Barcelona routine. Couldn’t blame the boy for practicing.

And to be frank, I’m still not that excited about the AFF Cup. When the keywords in UEFA is ‘bloated’ (like in the World Cup qualification and the Europea League), the keyword here is ‘overlong’. Group stage will end on 1st December. Nice. But two legs semi finals on 8-13 December, and TWO LEGS FINAL on 19 and 22 December, as if they really want to see what’s it’s like on 22 December 2012.

In comparison, THE regional tournament of Asia, the East Asian Championship (Gulf? Meh) takes place in a week each two years. Yeah, there was preliminary rounds involving for example Macao and Guam, and then Hong Kong and Taiwan, and thankfully there was also qualification round in AFF involving countries like East Timor and Brunei (Myanmar and Laos survived).

But still, no need for two legs semi finals and finals – it’s a mini tournament that only deserves two weeks duration at most. By 13 December everyone wants to see Lee Keun-ho nutmegs John Terry. Three days later, Emerson will become the first Asian player representing South American champions in the Toyota Cup – the future is Asia (it’s a good guess whether number 200 Chen Zhizhao will join the team). Actually, they won’t. Chen is not included and Emerson is Brazilian, not Qatari. He said that pressure is about avoiding stray bullets, not playing Boca Juniors. Surely he’s not talking about Qatar because there are not stray bullets in Qatar.

Back to home. So yeah, Corinthians v Chelsea has been ended by the time Thailand gear up against…uh…Indonesia? Singapore? Malaysia? What an anticlimax.

There are great number of reasons to not get excited with Southeast Asian football. I’ve praised Malaysia U-23 willingness to qualify to the Olympics, only to see the Tigers eaten by the Lions. I’ve tweeted that I’m boycotting S. League after it announces punishment for the bottom of the league (Woodlands Wellington, I guess). Then, after Singaporeans somewhat got excited, the balloon was popped out by Indonesia. Did I happy with Andik’s goal? Of course.

Many Indonesians are skeptical with this team, thanks to the prolonged struggle in the Indonesian FA and terrible results in World Cup qualifications, 2008 or 2011 alike. And there’s AFF Cup 2010, when winning Indonesia attracted genuine from the middle class who usually don’t watch local football, not least thanks to half-Dutch Irfan Bachdim. Then the president started to compared himself with Nelson Mandela in Invictus – using the national team to unify the nation. The difference is Mandela wanted the blacks and whites to unite as South Africans, while Yudhoyono was just seeking personal vanity. Because of the overlong tournament, the hype had ended, Indonesia was unconvincing in dirty matches against Philippines (many of its half-white players were, and still are, as quarrelsome as West Asians – they are certainly not respectful Aussies) and then the downfall to Malaysia in the final legs.

So Indonesia did not have its best players and those who joined the national team, like venerated senior Bambang Pamungkas have fair share of new haters, although to simplify, the conflict in Indonesia football is essentially about this politician and that general. As Philippines enlisted more half-white from Europe and United States, Indonesia did the same.

Reading the squad list and I found no Chinese name in Malaysia and with the exception of Joey Sim (reserve goalkeeper), Singapore have no Singapore-born Chinese – both Qiu Li and Shi Jiayi grew up and played football in China. Indonesia raised hope in the name of Arthur Irawan, who played in Espanyol B. Like Kim Kurniawan, he hailed from Europe instead of the Chinese enclaves of Surabaya, Pontianak, or Medan, but still he’s Chinese-Indonesian.

Then Arthur Irawan was replaced at the last minute with Rafael Maitimo, who secured his Indonesian passport one day before the opening match (and scored against Laos. But then everyone should be able scoring against Laos). Hearing the news, I became convinced that like Kim Kurniawan, Irawan was not left out from the national team strictly by form, skill, or performance. He’s not chosen because he’s Chinese. The Garudas are fine with Malukus, Papuans, Timorese, Batakese, but not Chinese. Instantly I lost interest in Indonesia, and also take Singapore with great reserve.

As I had posted months ago, I want the renaissance of Thailand football. I want Thailand to win the AFF Cup. They must lead Southeast Asian football again, they must be able to challenge Oman and Jordan again. They must be able to easily overcome Philippines (2-1 recently) and Tajikistan. Because in Southeast Asia, they are the ones with the tradition and vision. Not only to entertain the local politicians and working class, but also to preserve the relevance of Southeast Asia in Asian football. To take on the continent. Now it’s their time.