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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.