Archive for June, 2007

Asian Cup, Group Preview.

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

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The Asian Cup – A European Perspective

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Based as I am in Europe, I would not presume to know all there is to know about Asian Football. Indeed with the continent being so spread out, I doubt if many Asian commentators can view the whole picture. Having said that, I have travelled frequently to Asia over the last two decades, and I am not a novice when it comes to Asian football.

The first port of call in searching out the relative chances of teams in a competition in International rankings, this is especially true in Asia, where matches seem more likely to go according to form (as compared, for example with Africa, where venue tends to be of primary consideration). No international ranking system is perfect, and I find it helps to compare two. The first of these is produced by FIFA – this is a valid system, but FIFA need to generate news headlines with each monthly iteration – so they have been designed to allow rapid movement in either direction given a few good or bad results. The other rankings are available on the internet at www.eloratings.net, and appear to be a labour of love, with no commercial input. These are updated on almost every day an international match takes place.

In Asia, though, there is little difference between the rankings. Both have the top four on the continent to be Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea. This quartet are allocated one each to the four groups for the Asian Cup, and must be the favourites. FIFA has Uzbekistan as fifth, with Saudi Arabia, Oman, China and Iraq following. I am not certain how the Uzbeks won their position, and neither are the ELO ratings, which put them in 9th, but have the other quartet in the same order. The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain follow in the ELO ratings, as 10th 11th and 14th, while FIFA has this trio as 13th, 10th and 14th. Both are in agreement that Jordan are the best side to have missed out! The rankings for the host nations are lower in both ratings system, although it appears Thailand are the best of the quartet. (Despite the South East Asia championship, Singapore still appear below Thailand in the ratings).

Apart from the rankings, naturally I look at the make up of the squads. This is where being in Europe does not help. There are just too many names that one does not know, even having watched matches in some of the Asian Leagues, the last Asian Cup and the Gulf Cup back in January (which featured six qualifiers). The best football leagues, however are in Europe, and it is worth looking to see who comes in from these countries. From this point of view, Australia has the nap hand with the majority of their squad coming from European leagues, and with a number of players who could be called stars even in that company. The three big East Asian countries all have a few players in Europe – but even when they play at the best clubs, one cannot say they are more than ordinary players in the company they keep. Elsewhere, there are a few Iranians that have done really well in the German Bundesliga, but not very many other West Asian players travel to Europe. This is a pity, as there clearly are some that would make the grade and it may well improve their games – but with plenty of money available in Arab countries, few look further abroad. The host quartet do not have any of their players in the European leagues, and are failing to produce players that could make it. This should be a cause for concern to all of them.

Oddly, Japan has shunned a number of European based players and picked a squad based almost entirely on the J-League with just Celtic’s Nakamura, and Frankfurt’s Takahara as exceptions. The Koreans on the other hand have been given no choice, with three players from the English Premiership absent through injury. Lee Young-Pyo (Tottenham), Seol Ki-Hyeon (Reading) and Park Si-Jung (Manchester United) being the trio concerned, a further blow is an injury to the veteran Kam Nam-il of Suwon. The squad does include Middlesbrough’s Lee Dong-Gook, Kim Dong-jin and Lee Ho of St Petersburg, and Lee Chunsoo who plays in Japan for Shimizu S-Pulse. The Chinese include four players (Sun Jihai, Li Tie, Shao Joayi and Dong Fangzhou) currently in Europe, plus two more just returning from loan spells, (Zheng Zhi and Sun Xiang).

The host, South East Asian countries do not have any players who ply their trade outside the region – and in no way if this due to the comfort zone as in West Asian – if there were players good enough, then surely they would want to play in Europe. The final qualifier for the finals is Uzbekistan, the only one of the former Soviet republics to be able to hold their own consistently at this level. Geographically remote from the other entrants, the Uzbeks look to their former comrades, and have several players from the Russian and Ukraine leagues in their ranks.

Looking Forward to the Asian Cup.

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Each of the Confederations affiliated to FIFA run their own continental championships for National teams (although the Oceania one is sometimes part of the World Cup qualification). Generally, these tournaments are the second most important competition for the teams involved, behind the World Cup itself. There is, of course, the additional advantage that with more places available for qualification, it is going to be easier to reach a Continental Tournament’s finals, then the World Cup. It used to be that each continent would choose its own dates for such tournaments, unfettered by what the others were doing. However, over the last decade or so, football has become more and more international. It is not just South American players who find their way to Southern Europe, but now the European Leagues (in particular) are full of an array of footballers from all over the world.  This has produced a requirement for the tournaments to try and organise during the summer months, (except Africa). In 2004, there were overlapping tournaments looking for public attention in Europe, South America and Asia. But European football tends to dominate football headlines across the World, so both South America and Asia have decided to play in the Summer of 2007, while the CONCACAF Gold Cup (for North and Central America) has tended to go for odd numbered years. And so, the 2007-8 schedule is 

CONCACAF Gold Cup: 6-24 June 2007 (USA) 

Copa America: 26 June – 14 July 2007 (Venezuela) 

Asian Cup: 7-29 July 2007 (S.E. Asia) 

African Cup Nations: 20 January-10 February 2008 (Ghana) 

European Championships: 7-29 June 2008 (Switzerland and Austria) 

The African, Asian and European tournaments are for 16 teams, and involve qualifying tournaments as well. The Gold Cup is for 12 teams, with two qualifying competitions (the Copa Caribe which chooses four Caribbean contenders, and the UNCAF tournament selecting five from Central America), while USA, Mexico and Canada are exempt from qualifying and the USA always stages the contest. The Copa America brings in all ten countries from the region, and the ten competitions up to and including 2007 have all been played in different countries  

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The Asian Cup is to be held in no less than four countries. This has created a logistical nightmare, and the AFC have since come to regret the decision. The countries all have their own currencies and legal structures and are not even all in the same time zone.The Asian Cup is to be held in no less than four countries. This has created a logistical nightmare, and the AFC have since come to regret the decision. The countries all have their own currencies and legal structures and are not even all in the same time zone. For each of the quartet, a group of matches has been allocated in the first round – five of these six matches will be at a single stadium (on separate days). The sixth match is to be played at a secondary venue. With the exception of Indonesia’s secondary venue, these extra stadia hold just the one match each. This places a limit on the individual watching the matches – however you try and arrange your plans, seven of the eight venues is the most you are going to manage!

Naturally, each of the host countries has chosen their biggest stadium (not surprisingly, all situated in the capital cities) for most of the games – but the secondary stadium in Indonesia and Vietnam was less easy to choose.

In Malaysia, the Bukit Jalil stadium, part of the complex built for the 1998 Commonwealth Games holds 87,000 – but the nearby Shah Alam Stadium is also a modern stadium, built in 1991, and holds over 65,000. Bangkok also has a new stadium on hand – the Rajamangala was also built in 1998; in this case for the Asian games, and also holds over 65,000. As is common with new stadia, this one is away from the city centre. Bangkok’s old stadium, the Suphachalassai (which until recently was just referred to as the National Stadium) is quite a bit smaller. Originally opened in 1935, it has been modified since, as venue for the Asian games in 1966, 1970 and 1978. Its capacity is given as 35,000 in a traditional bowl with a track.

The main stadium in Indonesia is the Bung Karno in Jakarta (named after Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno). It is another bowl of a stadium with track. It was built in 1962, and hopefully has been renovated significantly in order to hold the final of this tournament. When I went there to see the Indonesian Championship final in 1996, I thought it was a crumbling mess. Unusually, the best seats are on the lower tier, and are quite vulnerable to things thrown from above – which has been a problem in the past. The stadium’s official capacity is 100,000 – but it is said that it has held 120,000 on occasion including the 2004 Tiger Cup final, when Indonesia faced Malaysia. Other stadiums in Jakarta are small by comparison, so they have chosen Palembang, in Sumatra as the secondary stadium. The Jakabaring stadium, used by Indonesian League club Sriwijaya, holds about 40,000.

That leaves Vietnam, with the smallest pair of stadiums. Although it is the newest of the stadia for the tournament, (opened for the 2003 South East Asian games), the My Dinh stadium to the north of Hanoi holds just 40,000. It is used for International games, and for Hoa Phat in the league. One has to travel South to Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) to find the countries second stadium. The Army stadium being the smallest in the tournament, holding just 25,000

     

     

Football Shaped – by Leo Hoenig.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

 

Good Day to you all, and Welcome to my blogs.

The objective of these pages is to give me an easy way to present some of my writings and photographs. It is mainly about travel and football – the voyages of a groundhopper, or if you prefer, the rambings of a sad man who should never be let out of his anorak!

 Meanwhile to welcome all friends to this world, the opening photograph is the entrance to the Stadion der Freundshaft – Friendship Stadium, which is in Frankfurt an der Oder, on the German-Polish border

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For anyone who does not know, the title “Football Shaped” comes from the track   “Senses Working Overtime”, from XTC’s 1982 Album “English Settlement”.

And All the World is Football Shaped

Its Just for me to Kick in Space

And I can See, Hear, Smell, Touch, Taste

And I’ve got One, Two, Three, Four, Five…

Senses Working Overtime

Trying to take this all in,

I’ve got One, Two, Three, Four, Five…

Senses Working Overtime

Trying to taste the difference ‘tween the lemons and limes

Pain and Pleasure

…and the church bells softly chime…