Thursday, March 4, 2010

Asian Cup: A disaster for South East Asia

A disaster has struck football in South East Asia. Here is an interesting view by John Duerden, Asia Editor for John feels that Malaysia is a problem child were football is concerned.

As fans over South East Asia wake up on Thursday morning, they were hit by the realization that something wasn’t right. The region of over 500 million people will not have a single representative at the 2011 Asian Cup.

After four participants (OK, due the fact that there was a quartet of hosts) in 2007, this football-mad region has no team to cheer on next January in Qatar - the first time this has happened since 1988.

It has been on the cards for a while. Thailand held their fate in their own hands but came away, as expected, from Iran’s Azadi Stadium carrying nothing. That gave Singapore a chance to sneak in but the Lions lost at Jordan.

When Anas Bani Yaseen scored the winner in Amman, it was one that hurt football bosses all over the ASEAN region, one that had hoped to host the 2022 World Cup but is unable to send any team to the Asian Cup.

It has been a campaign to forget. After promising performances in 2007, the region’s big boys were supposed to take the next step and show that they could do the business away from home and out of their comfort zones. That just never happened and it was a dire qualification campaign.

Let’s just look at the facts.

Five teams started the journey to Qatar. Malaysia, something of a problem child in the region, was in a reduced group of three but still lost all four games. Banning foreign players from the domestic league looks more foolish by the week. It is another decision difficult to fathom by bosses in the country who are fond of talking of future potential rather than the depressing present.

Indonesia, impressive in 2007, failed to win a single match and suffered from a lack of leadership under Benny Dollo. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the team needs a foreign coach.

Vietnam, the region’s champions, won just one, a home victory over Lebanon and showed little of the verve, vigour, and on the road, fearlessness, of their 2008 campaign. Singapore, who actually finished bottom of their group, won two games, against Thailand and Jordan at home and Thailand had their chance at home to Jordan but blew it.

So South-East Asia’s five teams picked up only two wins between them against rivals from elsewhere on the giant continent. It is sobering stuff. Even if ASEAN’s best still don’t travel well, they didn’t win many games at home either.

I asked Peter Withe, ex-England international and former coach of Thailand and Indonesia if football in the region was going backwards.

“No I do not think so,” he replied. “But I do think that teams all over Asia are getting stronger and there is a need to keep pace with the other teams. Some teams like Jordon the Uzbeks, North Korea and even India are getting the message that this is a worldwide sport, we need good teams to compete at this higher level so we must improve our standards.”

India and North Korea are certainly lucky to be at the 2011 Asian Cup after qualifying through the AFC Challenge Cup, a practice that has not been openly discussed but it certainly dubious in football terms. The strongest South-East Asian teams may have had more luck in that weaker competition.

That shouldn’t be an excuse however. Standards are rising across the board but none from SE Asia has been able to break out of the region. This general disappointment comes when leagues such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are starting to thrive, attendances are rising and some money is starting to move around the domestic game. It isn’t yet systematic or widespread but it is a start.

It remains to be seen if it is enough. One look at an academy like Aspire in Qatar shows just how finance can make a difference as does a trip to Korea’s pristine National Football Center. These sights are impressive but still absent in the south-east. Professionalism in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam is just starting to be felt (and is still fragile as a look at Indonesia’s problems show) and it will take time before this feeds through to the national team.

Money plays a part but is not everything. ASEAN teams play against each other too often and not enough against those from elsewhere. This problem is exacerbated as few players venture outside the region to play their club football. Football there is still insular, as the Malaysia domestic league shows, and long-term thinking is still rare.

A minimal representation in the Asian Champions League doesn’t help. A country with a tiny population such as UAE, one that doesn’t boast the most professional of leagues, has four clubs in the continent’s premier club competition, two more than the entire ASEAN region.

And then there is the problem of goals. Thailand coach Bryan Robson lamented the absence of a goalgetter in his team after the loss to Iran. It is always easy to point the finger at a misfiring marksman but Robson is just the latest in a long line of leaders to wish for more clinical finishers.

But a long line of South East Asian representation at the Asian Cup has now been broken. Just hours after it all happened, it is still too early for it to sink in but very soon, the region needs to take a look at what is going on elsewhere in Asia before it really starts to fall behind.


  1. It is a well-known fact that teams from the Middle East import many of their do you combat that??

  2. If you can't beat them join 'em. S'pore also have some imports..

  3. Malaysia will be Malaysia...everything Boleh. Not Kiasu but Kiasi.