AFC Champions League & AFC Cup 2014: Group Stage Review

Note to Nguyen Rodrigo: If you have to grab a man, make sure to see him eye to eye.

Note to Nguyen Rodrigo: If you have to grab a man, make sure to see him eye to eye.

There it is. Europe is yet to crown its best club while Asia has cut down its candidates to sixteen. Predictably, I care more about eight East Asian clubs. Maybe to West Asian clubs which have East Asian players – Koreans, Australians, and even an Indonesian.

But oh, there’s something closer to home – AFC Cup, where the action is for most of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. There are also eight East Asian clubs surviving here…okay, so much to talk about. Start from the least interesting bits.

 

AFC Cup – Group E

Indonesian heavyweights Persipura, acronym of Jayapura United, ace the group. Papuans are indeed the workhorses of modern Indonesian football, and local boy Boas Solossa again proved himself as one of Indonesia’s best forwards with four goals. Behind Persipura are Churchill Brothers. Not named after the British Prime Minister, but after Goan big man Churchill Alemao who bought the Brothers Sporting Club. The Indians ended the group stage above Singapore’s police and customs team Home United by a single goal margin (head-to-head wise, Churchill also won their home match 3-1 compared to Home United’s 2-1).

Group F

I’m wondering what does “T&T” in Hanoi T&T stands for. Either telecommunication and telegraphs or tourism group T&T, which is based in Ho Chi Minh City (their website is inaccessible). The Vietnamese dominated the group thanks to 22 year old winger Nguyen Van Quyet, who had scored three times for the national team and wears number 10 for club and country. Indonesia does well this year by passing its second club to the Round of 16, Arema Cronus/Malang/Indonesia. So the team is based in the city of Malang, they were bought in 2012 from tobacco corporation Bentoel by conglomerate Bakrie Group, who put in the Cronus name (and which is never popular. I don’t know if Cronus here refers to the evil Greek god). Their star player is Uruguayan-Indonesian Cristian Gonzales.

This tournament, meanwhile, is forgettable for Malaysia. Selangor go out of the tournament with two draws and two losses, despite the seven goals of Brazilian Paulo Rangel. O yeah, Maladewan teams, despite their gallantries, were hopeless with five losses each for New Radiant and Maziya.

Group G

Just like FIFA suspended the transfer ban for Barcelona, AFC does not automatically ban Vissai Ninh Binh for match fixing – although it has suspended itself from the V-League. So nine Ninh Binh players bet $48 thousands on the outcome of their match against Kelantan  (four goals minimum) and threw away the first half 1-2, before scoring two in second half. What astonished me was their plan didn’t go wrong – what if they failed to score any goal in second half?

More astonishingly, no Malaysian media covered the scandal except for small piece in Malaysian Digest and a belated small question from New Straits Times. Predictably, nobody commented both articles. So uh, Malaysian football fans, are you OK with this? Are Kelantan that bad?

Of course, the ones who have some hope (or not at all) that they could go on if Ninh Binh are crossed from the competition are Hong Kong’s South China. At this point I’m beginning to wonder if anyone here cares about playing football and standing up for their club or not.

Group H

Moving away from that horror – Kitchee proudly represent Hong Kong with four wins, thanks to group stage’s top scorer Juan Belencoso (another nobody in Europe, somebody in Asia). Myanmar also qualifies its second club besides Yangon United, Nay Pyi Taw (based in that hideous new capital city). Less flashy than Yangon, but they got the job done.

Besides Malaysia, S-League also proves its overrated-ness as Tampines Rovers failed to qualify (hey look, there’s something Singapore’s bad at!) as they kept on losing. Their defense was really hideous with sixteen against goals. So much for two Japanese defenders. Counted by head to head, they were better than India’s Pune (beat them both home and away). By goal aggregates, though, Tampines were unbelievable*.

*Once I talked about the Rovers to a Tampines local and she replied “Dude, what are you talking about? What’s this Rovers thing?”

 

AFC Champions League – Group E

Pohang Steelers, owned by steel corporation POSCO, have the tradition of having non-fancy players (and kits) and stable performances both in Korea and Asia. They have done it again this year. Have you heard of Kim Seung-dae? Neither am I, but he had scored four goals and Pohang passed the group stage unbeatable. Sadly, very few of the steelers would make it into the Korean national team for Brazil 14, Seung-dae included.

It appears that you're searching for Kim Dae-seung.

It appears that you’re searching for Kim Dae-seung.

Cerezo Osaka’s investment with Diego Forlan paid off although the team experienced heavy damage on their effort to pass. The star of the group stage, however, was Yoichiro Kakitani, tipped as Japan’s next big thing.

Buriram United, Southeast Asia’s single representative, had the fond memory of beating Shandong Luneng 1-0 at home, but that’s about it. Vagner Love, former team mate of Keisuke Honda and once one of the best strikers in Russia, could not help Shandong despite five goals.

Group F

FC Seoul, owned by LG Corporation (more successful with TV, AC, and washing machine than mobile phone), did not emerge unscathed, but they scored more win than others. They certainly missed striker Dejan Damjanovic who moved to China (and Spanish-Japanese Sergio Escudero is a poor substitute), and it’s doubtful they could go very far with their current domestic form.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima, which did very terribly last year, tried again with very much the same composition (minus goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa who moved to Urawa). They also had the terrible luck of being subjected to two penalties in the last minutes of away match against Seoul. Still less than four penalties imposed at Kashiwa Reysol in 2013 when facing Suwon. Yes, the popular conspiracy theory in 2002 World Cup (on Korea vs Italy and Spain) might be true, and West Asian referees could feel intimated by the home crowd had the 90 minutes ended and Korea lost to Japan. Although I’m not sure how scary it was to persuade a man to award four penalties.

Group G

You know Guangzhou Evergrande will make it. You know they are still the favorites. Dario Conca has been replaced by Alessandro Diamanti and the Brazilians are still there – Muriqui, Elkeson, plus Rene Junior. But this year’s Evergrande is less scary. They are beatable. They scored only ten goals and conceded eight, much worse than Western Asian heavyweights. They are still the champions and they are still the only good Chinese team. But others are catching up fast.

Their big rival, Jeonbuk, also made it past this group of hell – due to narrow goal difference over Melbourne Victory. Of course, Victory’s coach Kevin Muscat also cried for penalty in the dying moments of the final match against Jeonbuk. Victory supporters shrugged that the referee was too scare to award it. One thing for sure – Korean stadiums are more fearsome for regional referees than Japanese, Australian, and even Chinese.

Group H

Well the Australian team I shouldn’t have supported topped the group. Western Sydney quickly eclipse its older and more beautiful sister Sydney FC and did very well for their first season in Asia. Kawasaki, arguably Japan’s best for this season, couldn’t even match their tally of eleven goals. Ulsan are the only failed Korean team, a letdown for the team with the supposedly best attacking formation in Korea. Another bottom of the barrel Chinese team, Guizhou, prove that Guangzhou Evergrande are on the different league with other CSL teams. Others have the money but not the results.

 

Stay tuned for the Round of 16 playoffs in early May. At least this time AFC makes it home and away.

 

 

Advertisements

The Chosen 23 – who will be there Part 1

A dog doing his guard

A dog doing his guard

Thanks to my nephew who asked who Spain’s forwards will be for World Cup 2014 – and if Fernando Torres is among them*.

So with the World Cup coming in one and half months, it’s time to check and speculate on the top 23 picks for Japan, Korea, and Australia (but not Iran, sorry). And who should be on waiting lists.

*My takes: Pedro, Diego Costa, Negredo, Soldado, and David Villa. Torres is a possibility backup along with Llorente.

 

Japan

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima is Japan’s biggest improver for this season. Already the safest pair of hands in Belgium, he has the good chance to lift the Belgian Pro League trophy. Behind him would be the safest hands in Japan (but not so in Asia, at least last year) Shusaku Nishikawa, who had moved from Hiroshima to Urawa. Number three is trickier. Usually they are Tokyo’s Shuichi Gonda and Hiroshima’s Takuto Hayashi, but Hayashi is crap in Asia and so is Gonda in Japan this season. If Al Z is interested in archeology, he could pick Kashima Antlers’ 34 year old Hitoshi Sogahata, who had deserved a decade worth of international appearance.

Defenders: Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), and Hiroshi Sakai (Hannover). Japan’s four backs are covered. The reserves would be…all from J. League. I’d pick Kobe’s Takahiro Masukawa, Kashima’s Gen Shoji, and Sagan Tosu’s Michihiro Yasuda. Wild card: Tsukasa Shiotani (Hiroshima) and Wataru Hashimoto (Kashiwa).

Midfielders: Besides Kagawa (recovering) and Honda (falling), we have Nagatomo (who can be either left back or midfielder), we have Hajime Hosogai (Berlin), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nurnberg), his compatriot at the club Makoto Hasebe, Takashi Inui (Frankfurt). Outside Germany, I reckon 33 year old Shinji Ono, leaving Western Sydney as a hero, deserves a place. Finally, Bochum’s Yusuke Tasaka. J. League picks would be Shoma Doi and Yasushi Endo (Kashima), Akihiro Ienaga (Omiya) and of course, Yoichiro Kakitani, who performs better in Asia than in Japan so far with Cerezo.

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz) deserves the top bill. As I want Japan to try to have two forwards instead of one, we should go with Mike Havenaar (Vitesse) as the tandem. Yuya Osako (1860 Munich) shows great potential and should be included in with four goals from six appearances. The local dudes I’d pick are among Yohei Toyoda (Tosu), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki), and Yuu Kobayashi (Kawasaki). Still uncertain about Hiroshima’s Hisato Sato.

 

Korea

Goalkeepers: Gosh, going all locals. Okay, play safe and go with Kim Yong-dae (Seoul), and his lifelong rival Kim Young-kwang (Gyeongnam). Actually, for Yong-dae’s rival I pick Cerezo’s Kim Jin-hyeon, one of few Korean top players who are still playing in Japan. In fact, I might replace Young-kwang with Ulsan’s Kim Seung-gyu or Pohang’s Shin Hwa-yong, seeing how good Pohang are in both Korea and Asia.

Defenders: Okazaki’s mate at Mainz Park Joo-hoKwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg), Kim Jin-kyu (Seoul), Kim Young-kwon (Evergrande), Hong Chul (Suwon), and Yun Suk-young (Queen Park Rangers). Can’t think of any good reserve at the moment. 

Midfielders: Park Ji-sung? The Guard Dog has little desire to return to the national team, although at 32, he’s still the greatest footballing Korean in the world. If he refuses the spot, then it’s up to Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Ki Sung-yong (Sunderland), Kim Do-heon (Suwon), Kim Nam-il (Jeonbuk), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg), Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), and Lee Seung-gi (Jeonbuk). Reserves are Jung Hyuk (Jeonbuk) and Kim Jae-sung and Lee Myeong-ju (Pohang).

Forwards: Lee Dong-gook, obviously. And obviously he has to stay smart this time. Then Son Heung-min (Leverkusen), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan), and Yeom Ki-hun (Suwon). I’m not sure about 34 year old Seol Ki-hyeon, so I’d go for Kim Seung-dae (Pohang), and Lee Keun-ho (Sangju, as he’s in the Army at the moment). And there’s always Park Chu-young :p.

 

Australia

Oh Socceroos, what has happened to you. At this rate you won’t cut it for the World Cup, trailing behind Uzbekistan.

Goalkeepers: Luckily there’s Mathew “Mat, not Matt” Ryan (Club Brugge), Kawashima’s nemesis in Belgian Pro League. Since we have to cross Mark Schwarzer, then Ryan’s deputies would be Adam Federici (Reading), and two bench warmers in great clubs, Brad Jones (Liverpool) and Mitchell Langerak (Dortmund).

Defenders: Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough), Lucas Neill (Doncaster), Chris Herd (Aston Villa), Ryan McGowan (Shandong Luneng), Matt Smith (Brisbane Roar), and Matthew Spiranovic (Western Sydney). Reserves are Sasa Ognenovski (Sydney), Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk), and Jason Davidson (Heracles).

Midfielders: Cahill of course, then Brett Holman (Al Nasr), Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace), Robbie Kruse (Bayer Leverkusen), Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar), Thomas Oar (Utrecht), Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), Dario Vidosic (Sion), and Adam Sarota (Utrecht). Harry Kewell has just retired so the wild card is James Holland (Austria Vienna).

Forwards: How can you tell Australia is an Asian team? When they are out of strikers. The best we can recruit are Mathew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt…what’s with Australian parents and Mat(t)hew for a son’s name? Just like Japanese with Shinji), Scott McDonald (Millwall. Yes, him, please), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets), and James Troisi (Melbourne Victory). Well, none of them is a household name in Europe so far. I also consider Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar), Joel Griffiths (Newcastle Jets..but he’s 33), and David Williams (Melbourne Heart).

Those are the names that if, they are fit and healthy enough, might play in Brazil this June. Let’s see how the Australians are doing with the final matches of A-League, and the Japanese and Koreans (and Australians too, great showing this season) with the group stage of AFC Champions League coming to an end.

5 Things About AFC Champions League Match Day 1

Are they Japanese? Are they Koreans? No, they are Chinese!

Are they Japanese? Are they Koreans? No, they are Chinese!

1. So much for Japan’s determination

“Japan looks to wrest Asian club crown from China”. For China, read Guangzhou Evergrande. Sure, Evergrande are not the only strong team in China – there’s also Guizhou Renhe, who defeated Guangzhou both in the 2013 Chinese FA Cup, and then the Community Shield, er, Super Cup.

Japanese clubs’ terrible records in the continent baffle even the Japanese. Then again, you can say the same thing for the English clubs. Well-funded teams? Check, although no flamboyant foreign billionaire owns a J. League club. Well known teams? Check. Yokohama F Marinos. Urawa Red Diamonds. Gamba Osaka. Just checking. Guess you might have heard of them compared to say oh, er, Pohang Steelers or Central Coast Mariners. Strong national sides? Check. Although continental wise, this applies better to Japan than to England. An island(s) nation who seems, at times, detached with the rest of the continental family and others love to make fun of its occasional troubles although secretly deep inside they love it and want to have its babies? Check. Ah.

Cerezo can try to Evergrande and bought Diego Forlan. But Diamanti he was not. Not when he played only for 27 minutes to replace Takumi Minamino (yes, I haven’t heard of him either). Yoichiro Kakitani, Japan’s next best thing, does not move to Bundesliga for a reason – he could not unlock a Korean defense twice. Besides those two, Aria Hasegawa, and Kim Jin-hyeon, I didn’t register any other cherry boy.

Sanfrecce look set to repeat 2013 – wonderful in Japan, terrible in Asia. Heck, they played the same team like in 2013 – minus Nishikawa, who moved to Urawa. Yokohama, oh, just marvelous.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the only Japanese team to win match day 1, Kawasaki Frontale, featured three foreign players. AFC and perhaps, perhaps fans, worry that an Asian club would field 10 Brazilians, Argentinians, Serbs, and Nigerians (and Koreans, perhaps) just like they do in Europe had there was no cap on foreign players. Of course all of us are for the development of home growth talents, but Japan is in the danger of not pairing its homegrowns with foreigners who come from different backgrounds, football culture, and mindset. A Diego Forlan is not enough. Sato and Saito had weak wingmen. Kawasaki delivered because Okubo, Renatinho, Kobayashi, and Paulinho could work together.

Lately Japan has reacted to its decline in business, entertainment, and international influences by resorting to isolationism. I don’t want Japanese football to follow the same path.

 

2. A-League is a different world to Australian national team

The Socceroos still can take on any team in Asia and CONCACAF, and maybe half of Europe, any given day. But A-League teams are still the jokes of the East side. By this time I believe it’s completely unfair that most of Asians, by different degrees of honesty, dislike Australian football simply because it’s…white. I was also guilty of this false mindset. Hopefully, most supporters of Ulsan, Guangzhou, and Seoul satisfied because their teams won and not because their teams won against ‘Westerners’ (although they would feel similarly if their teams defeat a Japanese team later on).

A-League teams, of course, have to step up their game and represent Australian football, made of the mixture of Irish, British, Italian, Greek, Balkan, Turkish, Latin American, and indigenous Australian sporting cultures. And they have to demonstrate it for the full 90 minutes, not just for the first minute or the first half.

 

3. It’s another season for the Koreans

The victory of Guangzhou Evergrande last season caused worse shock for Korean teams than the Japanese (who hardly reached the final anymore). Worse, more Chinese teams were attracting Korean and Korea-based foreigners to move into the Chinese Super League. Match day 1, however, showed the Koreans that they are still the heavyweights. Japanese Sergio Escudero might not able to replace Dejan Damjanovic, but Osmar can be greater than Adilson. Yun Il-lok looks bound to Brazil 14. It’s astonishing that Jeonbuk owned Marinos without Lee Dong-gook and Eninho at all, and Ulsan maintain the most exciting attacking duo in Korea – Rafinha and Kim Shin-wook. At the end, no Korean team lost match day 1. Expect one to make it to the final.

 

4. Guangzhou Evergrande is not a super team yet, but they are becoming an East Asian team.

Now for a something different – an East Asian team plays to a sold out crowd in the AFC Champions League. Almost 40 thousands, mostly youth, many were women, came to Tianhe Stadium with all sorts of big banners, compared to 11 thousands who went to Parramatta Stadium and 6000 to Seoul World Cup Stadium. The Chinese are used to make fun of their own football but it’s a great time to be a Guangzhou resident and a football fan. It’s good thing that the stadium and the environment are safe and attractive enough for women to come, despite the terrible pitch.

Guangzhou Evergrande set themselves on a different level with other Chinese teams and so do their fans. They look like, even better than, a hyper reality version of, a Korean team.

 

5. Buriram United may be the best team in Southeast Asia

AFC was kind enough to give a chance (“a fair go”, as Australians say) to assorted East Asian champions to qualify for the group stage. So we had chances to see how did champions of Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Vietnam held up against runner ups of China, Thailand, and Australia.

So by default, Thai Premier League is the best league in Southeast Asia, then? Maybe. Obviously other leagues are worse. Even you’d think a country as good as Singapore would have made a decent football league, seeing how they’ve made excellent universities, airport, and public transport system. So Thailand is, er, the best of the worst.

In the end, Thailand had to fight for extra spots against Australian and Chinese clubs, and unlike last year, they lost. But Buriram, sporting more multinational side than Japanese and Korean teams (two Spanish, an English, a Japanese, and a Thai-Norwegian), held themselves well against Vagner Love’s Shandong. If I’ve been searching for a Southeast Asian team to support besides my hometown teams, I think my search is over. Vote Buriram.

I’m not worried about Southeast Asian Football

1200 people actually watched this! I must have missed them on TV!

1200 people actually watched this! I must have missed them on TV!

Two years ago I boycotted coverage and opinion (well I did opinions) on Singapore League as long as Dan Tan was at large. He was arrested (what’s the situation now? I’m too afraid to check. Don’t want to read another Kong Hee), and so the boycott was lifted. The next time I visit Singapore, I intend to watch an S. League match. Should be simple…go to Jalan Besar or any other stadium and pay at the box office, since the stadium must be deserted.

But that plan has been crossed. I watched two international football matches broadcasted live from Jalan Besar stadium and they were terrible. First match was AFC Champions League qualification where Tampines Rovers hosted South China. The shoves were deliberate, unsporting behaviors, tempers, overaged and overweight white players. And no spectator.

The next match was Singapore against Jordan, AFC Asian Cup qualification. Again, the match, like the previous, saw at least two red cards.

I come from a country famous for mismanagement, corruption, unpaid wages, and football as political vehicles. I idolized Singapore for several reasons – it’s the only functional state in Southeast Asia, and by no coincidence it’s the only Chinese-majority state in the region. It’s the closest and easiest place to experience the First World in transportation, security, and trade. It’s the closest and easiest place to experience East Asia in culture, entertainment, food, and fashion.

For years I’ve refused to accept the reality that football in 21st century Singapore is a Malay scene. It was a Singaporean scene, but now it’s really rare to find Chinese and Indian players on the pitch – strangely, even it’s rarer to find Singapore-born Westerners playing professional football. It’s easier to find Chinese and Indians in Malaysian teams and the half-(or more) Western locals are quite easy to find among Filipino, Hong Kong, and even Japanese teams.

Seeing how Tampines and the Lions performed, it was understandable that “footbrawl” was a quite common word in Singapore, although thankfully the worst had came past us. I only can speculate wildly on the underlying causes. The pressure of living in unhappy, perfectionist Singapore (although you don’t see the same thing in J. League and K-League)? Disparity between living in a high income country and playing in an underfunded league? The weird situation of being a league where foreign teams have to keep on participating for financial and political reasons? Proximity with the mother of match fixing cartel?

Certainly, now I think it’s better to spend two-three hours exploring parts of Singapore (besides Orchard Road) rather than watching low quality football where I won’t get what I want to see – Chinese men doing athletics and Chinese women cheering for them.

The following week watching Muang Thong and Chonburi was easier. More spectators, although yeah, Muang Thong vs Hanoi was also a rough match. Unfortunately, the next week I had to support the non Southeast Asian teams – Melbourne Victory and Beijing Guoan. Maybe at the end, Australia and China deserve more Champions League spot than Thailand.

I believe at this time I’ve given up big expectations on Southeast Asian football and be happy with it. No point in hoping they can match East Asia if they cannot match West Asia. No point in hoping for more Chinese-Singaporean footballers if there are not many Chinese-Australian, Chinese-American, and heck, capable Chinese footballers around.

These days I happily watch the Indonesian Super League from television and be thankful that my town hosts the only Chinese-Indonesian footballer, Kim Kurniawan (besides Espanyol B’s Arthur Irawan). These days I follow the A-League highlights on Australia Network and be happy that Guangzhou Evergrande has returned to Earth. These days I keep on thinking “Well it’s not Kagawa fault” when he’s not on the Manchester United lineup, expecting Honda and Nagatomo’s goals or assists, and hoping that the Bundesliga match will be something else besides Munich or Dortmund. And keeping track of Eiji Kawashima’s clean sheet (5 matches so far).

If the 2015 Asian Cup has no Southeast Asian representative (Malaysia by long shot), then be it. One day they will be able to defeat Lebanon, Oman, and China. But I won’t wait for that day.

Which A-League Team to Support?

Australia FlagIt’s about a week before I’m entering my second season of teaching. Currently there are more than a dozen Indonesian youth braving Perth winter mornings (not that severe, I suppose, ah, 5C/41F). Some of them follow football, but the European kind as always.

I really admire Westerners who ask “which team to support?” when they are moving overseas. While Asian students and expats can be aware of the local football scene (more on the students than the expats), and might be even supporting the national team, I’d like to spend sometime giving the outline of A-League teams playing in the upcoming season, in case a newly arrived visitor to Australia wants to indulge in the local sport spectacle. Believe me, it’s easier to follow than trying to understand Australian Football or forms of rugby.

___________________________________________________________________________

Adelaide United

Stadium: Coopers Stadium, Hindmarsh. Accessible through Adelaide Metro tram (Entertainment Centre) and train (Bowden).

Shirt: Kappa

Shirt sponsor: Solarshop solar power provider

Star players: Eugene Galekovic (GK), Jonathan McKain (DF), Dario Vidosic (MF), Bruce Djite (FW)

Outlook: A regular of AFC Champions League, they were the first Australia’s representatives after Australia entered AFC and reached the 2008 finals. Despite losing to Gamba Osaka, they represented Asia in the 2008 Club World Cup and defeated African champions Al-Ahly 1-0. Last year they failed to overcome Bunyodkor.

Niche: Adelaide is still not a favorite for international students (and business expats) and many students there come on scholarship rather than by personal preference. Still, if you like to go off the beaten path, leaving somewhere more affordable and peaceful (with the conveniences of a capital city), having a strong hometown team is an extra.

________________________________________________________________________

Brisbane Roar

Stadium: Suncorp Stadium, Milton. Accessible through Citytrain (Milton and Roma Street stations) and 375 and 385 buses.

Shirt: Puma

Shirt sponsor: The Coffee Club cafe chain

Star players: Matt Smith (DF), Jade North (DF), Liam Miller (Ireland, MF), Besart Berisha (Albania, FW)

Outlook: Founded by Dutch community in Brisbane and owned by Indonesian corporation Bakrie Group, Roar were known as Queensland Roar before the 2009-10 season. In the following season, they won the A-League title with 28 matches undefeated – and became the first A-League team to defend the title. Bundesliga alumni Besart Berisha is the most feared forward in Australia.

Niche: Brisbane, and Queensland is still a hip market in Australia – not many people go there, but those who do enjoy the sun and the tropical climate. Brisbane itself is a favorite for Japanese and Taiwanese students and expats.

_________________________________________________________________________

Central Coast Mariners

Stadium: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford. Accessible by CityRail and RailCorp lines from Sydney.

Shirt: Kappa

Shirt sponsors: Masterfoods food products

Star players: John Hutchinson (Malta, MF), Michael McGlinchey (NZ, MF), Mile Sterjovski (FW)

Outlook: Now this is a team that punch above their weight. Currently they are the defending champions and yet they are yet to have someone wearing number 1, 9, 10, and 11. The senior squad has only one listed goalkeeper. Yet they survived the 2013 ACL group stage and defeated Guizhou and Suwon Bluewings.

Niche: Gosford is 76 km away from Sydney and is considered as a satellite town of Sydney, the third largest urban area in New South Wales after Newcastle. Students are unlikely to live here, although those who choose to stay in Australia might by chance and choice opt to live a beach life here.

________________________________________________________________________

Melbourne Heart

Stadium: AAMI Park, Melbourne.

Shirt: Kappa

Shirt sponsor: Westpac bank

Star players: Patrick Gerhardt (Liberia, DF), Harry Kewell (MF)

Overview: The second team in Melbourne, their name of choice is based on newspaper poll, and had some controversy due to objection from the Australian Football League authority (over who owns the term ‘football club’) as well as from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, which holds the annual Heart of Melbourne Appeal. Naturally bad blood rivalry brews with the older Melbourne Victory.

Niche: As far as I know, there is no geographical division between Heart & Victory supporters (there is big difference between the working-class northwest Melbourne and the middle class southeast Melbourne) as both teams play in the city. Heart, however, practice in the working class La Trobe University (and my alma mater).

_______________________________________________________________________

Melbourne Victory

Stadium: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne Docklands

Shirt: Adidas

Shirt sponsor: Adecco human resources

Star players: Adrian Leijer (DF), Mark Milligan (MF), Jonathan Bru (Mauritius, MF), Archie Thompson (FW)

Outlook: Okay, I get it. Victory have the signs of the richer team – more stars, glamorous sponsors, and even the stadium is located in the controversial Docklands area – a Melbourne attempt to build a glitzy waterfront. So Victory might be more suitable for Asian students who are into style.

__________________________________________________________________________

Newcastle Jets

Stadium: Hunter Stadium, New Lambton, Newcastle. Accessible by train (Adamstown)

Shirt: ISC, an Australian brand more popular with Australian Football and English Rugby clubs.

Shirt sponsor: Hunter Ports

Star players: Ruben Zadkovich (MF), Emile Heskey (England, FW), Michael Bridges (England, FW)

Outlook: The club’s name and logo (depicting three F/A-18 Hornets) come from its proximity to the Williamtown Air Force base, and Newcastle naturally struggle seasons after seasons.

Niche: The University of Newcastle is popular for Asian students, hosting about 7,000 students out of 80 countries, in a town populated by 300 thousands. If you want to live in NSW and Sydney’s too crowded and expensive, try Newcastle.

_______________________________________________________________________

Perth Glory

Stadium: NIB Stadium, Perth

Shirt: Macron

Shirt sponsor: QBE Insurance

Star players: Michael Thwaite (DF), Jacob Burns (MF), Travis Dodd (MF), Shane Smeltz (New Zealand, FW)

Outlook: Like Perth, this is the only major thing available on the west side of the continent. Shane Smeltz is the deadliest striker in Oceania.

Niche: Perth is pretty popular with Asian students due to its proximity and time difference. Its unfortunate geographic location, however, prevents it from becoming bigger and more popular. Still, like other Australian major cities, it’s still among the world’s finest.

__________________________________________________________________________

Sydney FC

Stadium: Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Shirt: Adidas

Shirt sponsor: Webjet online travel agent

Star players: Brett Emerton (MF), Terry McFlynn (N. Ireland, MF), Ali Abbas (MF), Alessandro del Piero (Italy, FW)

Outlook: Sydney FC fashion itself as the elite club of Australia, at least by style. It signed past stars such as Kazu Miura and Dwight Yorke, and del Piero is playing his second season here. While they have won the A-League twice, they are yet to be successful in the Asian Champions League. While in 2007 they were second in the group E, unfortunately only group winners passed and that was Urawa Red Diamonds.

Niche: Sydney is the “most Asian” city in Australia, with 20% of the city population can be identified as having South, Southeast, or East Asian background.

__________________________________________________________________________

Wellington Phoenix

Stadium: Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Shirt: Nike

Shirt sponsor: Sony electronics

Star players: Glen Moss (GK), Leo Bertos (MF), Paul Ifill (Barbados, MF), Stein Huysegems (Belgium, FW)

Outlook: A New Zealand club who join the A-League, to the past protest (and threat) of AFC. Consequently, they cannot compete in the AFC Champions League. In some seasons, Phoenix can be very strong because they are composed of New Zealand national players, but that was not the case last season.

Niche: If you happen to live in Wellington (instead of Auckland), well, you have a spectacle.

__________________________________________________________________________

Western Sydney Wanderers

Stadium: Parramatta Stadium, Parramatta. Accessible through CityRail

Shirt: Nike

Shirt sponsor: NRMA Insurance

Star players: Ante Covic (GK), Michael Beauchamp (DF), Shinji Ono (Japan, MF), Aaron Mooy (FW)

Outlook: The geographical division is clear. Western Sydney is proud of its working class background against the richest city in Australia, and against the richest club in the A-League.The name Wanderers is not modeled after typical English football clubs, but after the name of one of the earliest football club in Australia.

The debutant shook the league last season by winning the regular season and recorded ten winning streaks, and gaining rights to compete in 2014 AFC Champions League. The new club does not only demonstrates the coaching skill of ex-Socceroo Tony Popovic, but also resurrects the career of Shinji Ono, who scored seven goals and provided three assists last season.

Niche: Last season Western Sydney Wanderers was my favorite A-League team. Seems strange but they have Shinji Ono, and then I read that Parramatta is growing fast to become an Asian (and Middle Eastern) area.

So here’s the overlook to 2013-14 A-League teams (10 of them, thank God). If you’re a foreigner in Australia, hope you’re interested to take a look at the local league. I know that it’s more likely that my Asian readers, for a funny but good reason, study in Australia instead of Japan or Korea.

This is a sponsored post but opinions are my own.

Asia Football Update – 2010 almost done!

League wise. The J. League 2010 season has been over.  In Division 1, Nagoya Grampus are the deserving champions due to great Joshua Kennedy and Keiji Tamada partnership. Kennedy shares his top scoring honor with Ryoichi Maeda of Jubilo and Edmilson of Urawa Reds. At least Japan now has developed promising strikers – Shinji Okazaki, Shoki Hirai (yet to be proved), Tamada (which unfortunately still shares the traits of Portuguese forwards), and Maeda (already has some trials with the national team, but is still far from being comfortable). Korea also has a young promise, Cho Young-Cheol.

Kashima, far from the danger of being overtaken at the final day, ended the season ahead of Gamba Osaka, after defeating Kyoto 2-1, while Gamba were surprisingly defeated at home by Yokohama Marinos. Shunsuke Nakamura’s stab and free kick assist spoiled Gamba’s season’s end party.

In Division 2, Kashiwa Reysol win the league comfortably with 77 points, nine above competitors Ventforet Kofu. Kofu’s Half-Dutch Mike Havenaar win the top scorer award with 20 goals. Actually there’s still one match left for J2, but all’s in the bag. With six points behind Avispa Fukuoka, JEF United must spend 2011 in Division 2. Good news for bottom of the ladder Kitakyushu, Toyama, and Okayama – they will not be relegated to the Japan Football League.

——–

K-League Championship is like what it should – between the champions and the runner-ups of the regular season. After Jeonbuk worked hard to overcome Asian Champions Seongnam, they fell to new sensation Jeju United 0-1 (Danilo Neco). Jeju will host the first final match against Seoul on Wednesday, while the day of decision will be on Sunday. Jeonbuk, however, have earned a Champions League ticket.

Park Ji-Sung and Shinji Kagawa have developed knacks to score goals in Europe. Park scored a goal in Manchester United’s massacre of Blackburn Rovers, while Kagawa scored his seventh goal with Dortmund in 4-1 rout against Monchengladbach. Park Chu-Young also follows this trend. Fresh from the grueling fight in Asian Games, he scored from penalty kick in Monaco’s 1-1 tie against Nice. He has scored five goals. Now if Takayuki Morimoto would kindly like to follow suit…

2010 AFF Suzuki Cup starts on Wednesday, featuring eight Southeast Asian nations.  Looking from FIFA’s ranking, Thailand is still the top SE Asian nation, while Indonesia comes second and will feature its foreign-born strikers Cristian Gonzales and Irfan Bachdim, while Papuan star Boaz Solossa is omitted for disciplinary problem. Melbourne Victory’s Surat Sukha join the Thai team under Bryan Robson, while almost half of Singaporean players play in the Indonesian Super League, including stars Agu Casmir, Precious, Shahril Ishak, and Noor Alam Shah.

Nicky Butt, a former Red Devil who fought alongside Scholes, Beckham, and Keane, is playing for Hong Kong’s South China AA.