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.

 

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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.

Get Ready

Please qualify. Please.

Asian football federations have announced their squads for upcoming World Cup qualification, and the preceding friendly match. Well, most of them. As Australia has no friendly schedule, they are yet to announce the 23 men sent in to face Saudi Arabia. Australia can get easy, but they don’t want to disappoint the good people of Melbourne and Thailand. And Oman.

Thailand. If they win against Oman in Muscat (not easy. But in Bangkok they really psyched out Oman which scored an own goal to complete a 3-0 win for the home team), and Saudi Arabia lose to Australia, then they will become the only Southeast Asian team to enter the final round. The last Southeast Asian team to do so were Indonesia in 1985, which lost to South Korea in the semi finals of Zone B, which determined the qualifier from East Asia. After defeated Indonesia, South Korea defeated Japan and went to Mexico.

So that  was 27 years ago (I just remembered that although Thailand lost intercontinental playoff round against England in 2001, that was in my version of FIFA 2002 rather than actual history). As a Southeast Asian, I really hope that Thailand can make a miracle and join the last ten teams, since Singapore and Indonesia are eliminated already. Thailand will face Maldives in friendly match on Friday (not sure on the venue). They should prevail. Here’s my Thailand XI:

G: Hathairattanakool (Chonburi) D: Phanrit (Muangthong), Samana (Chonburi), Siriwong (Pattaya), Sukha (Chonburi). M: Thonglao (Muangthong),  Choeichiu (Muangthong), Nutnum (Buriram), Kaewprom (Buriram). F: Winothai (BEC), Dangda (Muangthong).

No dashing name, and none of them plays overseas (Hathairattanakool played in my hometown Bandung, and Sukha played in second hometown Melbourne. Nice, eh?). Winothai and Dangda must give all they have to outwit al-Habsi.

Japan will employ 100% local stars to face Iceland in Osaka. Their European players are scoring, although not always winning. Havenaar scored again as a sub, although that was Vitesse’s goal when they went down 1-4 to Twente. Okazaki’s goal also was not enough to save Stuttgart from 2-4 loss to Hannover. He’s only one goal short from matching Kagawa’s tally, mind. On the other hand, Yoshida hit one when VVV put down de Graafschap (unfortunately, Bob Cullen failed to grab this easy opportunity). Miyaichi could become a new hero for Bolton as he led them to FA Cup’s Quarter Finals. And yeah, Kagawa is injured for two weeks :p. So he might be not playing against Uzbekistan. Nor is Honda, as CSKA still can’t include him for Champions League showdown against Madrid.

Anyway, here’s my Japan XI against Iceland.

G: Nishikawa (Hiroshima). D: Komano (Iwata), Konno (Gamba), Inoha (Kobe), Iwamasa (Kashima). M: Endo (Gamba), Kengo (Kawasaki), Abe (Urawa). F: Okubo (Kobe), Maeda (Iwata), Fujimoto (Nagoya).

Sorry, no Cerezo recruit :(.

Korea (there’s only one) is supposedly on good mood. Quite. Ajax reject Suk Hyun-Jun did good service for his old club by scoring two past PSV’s defense. Two! At the week when Hiddink decides that he’s tough enough to live in Dagestan Moscow!  Ki Sung-Yueng scored as Celtic demolished fellow Catholics Hibernian of Edinburgh. Martin O’ Neill was too nervous that he forgot to send in Ji as Sunderland handed Arsenal another humiliation. Park Chu-Young, as usual, was spared from the humiliation as he wasn’t on the list.

They should be pumped up enough to face Uzbekistan at noon in Jeonju, yes? They should be. Show Uzbekistan what kind of storm they will experience against Japan. And show Kuwait that they deserve to top the group, even if now they have the same amount of point with Lebanon. Sheesh.

My Korea XI against Uzbekistan & Kuwait:

G: Sung-Ryong (Suwon). D: Bom-Seok (Suwon), Jung-Soo (Al-Sadd), Tae-Hwi (Ulsan), Hyo-Jin (Phoenix). M: Sang-Sik (Jeonbuk), Sung-Yueng (Celtic), Do-Heon (Police), Keun-Ho (Ulsan). F: Chu-Young (Arsenal), Dong-Gook (Jeonbuk).

I’m yet to find the Singapore‘s roster for Friday night friendly with Azerbaijan in Dubai. They will hang around the Gulf before next week’s match against Iraq in Qatar. They are as hopeless as Next World Leader China, which will host Jordan in Guangzhou. Maybe because the Chinese think that it’s pointless too, so that I’m also yet to find the roster for friendly match against Kuwait in Hangzhou for….Wednesday.

Finally, Indonesia, in the spirit of purging players who are not in the Premier League employing the glorious U-23 team, will face Bahrain with completely newbies who are never playing for the national team! And expecting to draw a point! Qatar certainly not happy as they have to play Iran in Teheran, while Bahrain will demonstrate A-level football to the Indonesian boys at home in Riffa.

Here’s my Indonesia XI, which is the hardest one to make.

G: Samsidar (Semen Padang. Yes, I put in the Indonesian word for ‘cement’ for your amusement). D: Wijiastanto (Bantul), Michiels (Jakarta), Dwi Cahyo (Arema), Rahman (Semen. Alright, Padang). M: Taufiq (Surabaya 1927), Irawan (Surabaya 1927), Nurcahyo (Bantul). F:  Bahcdim (Malang), Sinaga (Padang), Arif (Bojonegoro).

God be with you, young men. God be with you.