Archive for February, 2011

USA Second Division – Recent Developments.

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

The USSF has now given the NASL provisional second division status for 2011.

The league will still have to meet certain commitments, mainly to do with the ownership of the teams for 2011, in order to keep this status.

 Surprisingly, it has then been announced that NASL clubs will not be included in the 2011 Open Cup. Apparently, it is too late in the procedure to change plans and include the five USA based NASL clubs in the draw.

The Open Cup will start in June with 40 clubs, 8 from the MLS, all 11 USA based clubs in USL-Pro, 9 from the USL’s Premier Development League, 3 from the National Premier Soccer League, 8 further clubs fron the USASA, and one more from “club soccer”. Each competition holds its own qualification process.

Eleven Grounds in Eleven Countries.

Monday, February 7th, 2011

A bit of a game here.

What follows is a photo from last new ground visited in each of the last eleven countries I have visited. This starts with a ground in England, but apart from this, there are no captions, leaving those who wish the chance to guess both countries and clubs for each ground. All photos were taken in the 2010-11 season.

The quiz will be played on-line on the nonleague matters forum at http://nonleaguematters.co.uk/forum/gforum.cgi?post=302515;sb=post_latest_reply;so=ASC;forum_view=forum_view_collapsed;;page=unread#unread

No longer a game – as the answers are included.

1. Globe Arena, Morecambe FC, England

2. Stade de Bielmont, RCS Verviers, Belgium

3. Neuer Tivoli, Alemannia Aachen, Germany

4. Cae Sling, Penmaenmawr Phoenix, Wales

5. Jassem bin Hamad Stadium, Al-Sadd, Qatar

6. Estadio Carlos Belmonte, Albacete Balompie, Spain

7. Stade du Schlossberg, US Forbach, France

8. Stadionul Zimbru, Zimbru Chisinau, Moldova

9. Toyota Park, Chicago Fire, USA

10. Estadio Juan Raman Lobriel, Puerto Rico Islanders, Puerto Rico

11. Swangard Stadium, Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada

USA: The Search for a Second Division.

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Last summer, I returned to the USA, for my first visit in 11 years. It was a good trip with a dozen games watched over a two week period – and although I focussed mainly on MLs games with the USA itself, I visited both Canada and Puerto Rico for the first time, with matches seen in the US Open Cup, the SuperLiga, the USSF division two and even the Premier Development League. By good fortune, I even managed a fixture in the Canadian Soccer League.

Kalamazoo Outrage – Playing in the PDL – Part of the USA Step 4

This was enough to give me some insight into the structure of football in the USA. Although there is no promotion and relegation between leagues in the USA, their Football Association, the USSF defines which of the various leagues is at each of the steps 1-4. Below this, all football is amateur and organised at state level under the auspices of the US Adult Soccer Association.

The unquestioned Step 1 League in the USA is Major League Soccer (MLS). This was founded in 1996 and after a difficult time in its early years, it now seems to be an established part of the American Sporting scene. The crowd figures, at around 16,000 per game in 2010 are in line with many other major leagues across the world. The MLS is not like most other football leagues, in so far as the league is the major entity involved, while the clubs are franchised granted by the leagues. Unlike any of the European Leagues, players’ contracts are with the league, not with the clubs – and majority of the players are paid at levels fixed by the league. There are a small number of marquee players, whose salaries are above the general limits for the league, and whose pay must be generated by the clubs own profits.

With two new teams for 2011, the MLS will now have a 34 match regular season. Although its clubs will play the same 34 game home and away round robin system used in most leagues of similar size, its teams are also divided into two Conferences on a regional basis. Ten teams will then play in a knock out end of season competition for the overall title.

The system leads to some confusion. In 2010, eight teams – (exactly half the league’s compliment) entered the play offs. The top two from each conference are guaranteed a place in the play offs, while the other four places come from the “combined table”. In 2010, the consequence of this was that only two eastern teams made it to the play offs, while six of the eight westerners qualified. This was the same breakdown as selecting the top eight from the combined table, but the fifth and sixth placed teams from the West were then re-categorised as third and fourth of the east for draw convenience. This led to the “Eastern Conference Final” being played between San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids, both of which play in the Western Conference. The overall champions ended up as Colorado, who had finished 7th in the original combined table, LA Galaxy having finished three points clear at the top, (and Western Conference Champions), lost the Western Conference title game to FC Dallas.

The final, played towards the end of November was staged at the BMO Field in Toronto.

San Jose take on DC United at the Buck Shaw Stadium. Despite playing in the Western Conference, the Earthquakes ended up playing in the Eastern Conference final

Until 2009, the second, third and some of the fourth level of USA football came under the auspices of the United Soccer Leagues, but for 2010 some of the teams tried to break away and form a new second level league of their own. This new league has been named the North American Soccer League, (NASL), deliberately chosen to evoke memories of the original NASL, which run for sixteen years from 1968, and known mainly for picking up world class star names, just prior to the retirement. Faced with two leagues, both having six clubs affiliated vying for sanction at the same level, the USSF decided not to leave the question open for one season, and instead run their own USSF Division Two including all of the 12 teams concerned. The two rival organisations were recognised in the division of the league into USL and NASL Conference. The match schedule did not reflect this though – every team played a 30 match regular season, 22 of which were made the standard double round robin, while the extra eight were on a regional, but not Conference basis.

The top eight (from a combined table) entered the end of season play offs, these were five from the USL Conference, and three from the NASL. The combined table, rather than Conference tables were used for seeding the draws, and all play offs were over two legs (with the exception that the top two seeds had to be Conference Champions and hence these two could not meet until the final). Two teams of the USA level 2 league were Canadian, while one was from was from Puerto Rico. It was in fact the Puerto Rico Islanders, who had the lowest ranking of the eight teams in the play offs, that played Carolina Railhawks in the final. Railhawks would have been fourth in an overall combined table, but were second seeds as winners of the NASL Conference. Islanders finished 5th in the USL Conference.

A sparse crowd (1089) watches Carolina Railhawks win 2-0 at Puerto Rico Islanders in the regular season. For the same match-up in the League final, the crowd was better (6257). The Islanders won that match 2-0, and took the title with a 1-1 draw the following week.

The average attendance for the USSF Division 2 was 4449 in 2010, this is broadly comparable to the 4700 average for the previous season when the second level was an 11 club tourney entirely under the USL banner.

My 2010 trip did not allow me to see any game at the third level. This was administered by the USL and was called USL, Division 2. (In 2009, the second level was known as USL Division 1). There were only six teams in the 2010 league, and they played a 20 game season, with the top three going into a simple play off (one semi-final, one final, home advantage to higher placed team). Charleston Battery were top of the regular season table, and also won the play off final.

All of these three leagues levels appear to be full time professional, but as far as I can see none of the lower leagues are. There are two separate leagues which operate as Step 4. Both are played in regional conferences and divisions in different parts of the country, with no interaction between these until reach the play off stage.

The USL operates the Premier Development League, with 61 teams in 8 divisions (for 2010) – despite varying numbers (between 6 and 10) in the divisions, they all play 16 games in the regular season, with one exception where and 8 team division played 14 games. The top two teams from each division then enters the play offs.

Meanwhile the National Premier Soccer League had 31 teams in 5 divisions. This only played around 8-10 games for each team, with play offs at the end.

The PDL demands that most of the players are under-23. A team is allowed to name a roster of 26 players of which only 8 can be over 23, but of the four teams I saw in action, the actual numbers of older players were only around the two or three mark. Each team must also have at least three under 18’s in their roster. A large number of the clubs pick their players mainly from College Football, (the PDL season is in the main within the college summer break). A few teams have become partially professional, but because of the amateur rules of the NCAA, (the main body for college sports), those that employ professionals cannot also use college players from the “elite colleges”. They can use players from colleges that are not part of the NCAA *

Reading the NPSL’s information on-line, there does not seem to be the age limits of the PDL, but the league also operates on an amateur basis, which means that it too can utilise college players.

While the NPSL is limited to USA teams, the PDL includes several Canadian outfits, and also Bermuda Hogges.

Both the level four leagues are continuing in similar formats for 2011, although both have an increased number of franchises, and each has added a division this season.

The MLS has also continued to expand, for 2011 it will have 18 teams – still divided into two conferences, and still playing a double round robin (so 34 matches per team). A 19th team has already been confirmed for 2012, with the probability that this will soon increase to 20.

AT the Saputo Stadium, Montreal Impact (the MLS expansion team for 2012) take on Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS 2011 expansion)

While the upper and lower reaches of the American Soccer system have not changed, except in their number of teams, the middle ranks are still full of confusion. The USSF has defined the criteria which a second division needs to adhere to. These include a minimum eight teams, spread out across different time zones, with minimum financial criteria, ownership rules and the demand that 75% of teams play in metropolitan markets with a population of at least 750,000. That final rule is enough to mean that the English Premier League (and probably every other league in Europe) is unsuitable to be a second level league in USA.

Not surprisingly the rules have come in for a level of criticism. After all, with the rules only demanding that stadiums can hold 5000, and with average crowds around 4500 last season – one would have expected that the importance is to bring in clubs that can regularly deliver this sort of average, and have facilities to suit. One city that does not have the size of population of Chattanooga, Tennessee. But it has the football club with the best average attendance in the NPSL at 4400, and the league’s highest ever (5117 when they played Rocket City United). My two viewings of football at this sort of level each had crowds of under 100. Surely the first thing the USSF should do is to sent someone down to Chattanooga to find out what is being done right, and then insist more clubs follow suit!

The USL have decided to combine their two professional divisions under the title USL-Pro. They have not applied for recognition as a level 2 league, and hence by default they are now level 3. Despite this, their officials will still believe this is the second highest league in the League, below the MLS. Actually, only one member of last season’s USSF Division 2 has joined the USL-Pro. Five of the old USL, Division 2 teams have stayed. There are nine new franchises, five of these are spread across the continent, in Orlando, New York, Dayton, Wilmington and LA, but the other four are not in the USA, but the Caribbean.

Three of these are from Puerto Rico, and played in last season in the Puerto Rico championships. Considering that a single PR club in the USSF division 2 last season failed to bring in the crowds, it is a surprise to find that there will now be four clubs from the Island playing in mainland competition.

The final member of the overseas new boys is the newly formed Antigua Barracuda. This will be the first professional football club on an island better known for cricket. The stadium used by Barracuda is known as the “Sir Vivian Richards Stadium”, and is of course sized for cricket!

The USL-Pro is divided into three conferences of five teams each. It is fair to say that it does not really have a National reach, so it has called its conferences, American (two teams in North Carolina, one in South Carolina, and one each in Florida and Virginia), National (two teams each from New York state and Pennsylvania, one from Ohio) and International (the three from Puerto Rico, Antigua and LA Blues). It is not difficult to spot that LA is the furthest of the teams from the Caribbean.

All teams will play 24 games, with the American and National conferences playing all teams in both conferences home and away, and six additional games. The International Conference teams play a double home and away round robin (16 games) with eight games (four home, four away against teams from the other conferences).

Portland Timbers take on Miami at PGE Park. The park is being updated for the MLS, and the local baseball team has been kicked off the ground

From last season’s USSF Division 2, only Rochester Rhinos has joined USL Pro. Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps move on up to the MLS, while four franchises (Austin Aztecs, St. Louis, Minnesota Thunder and Crystal Palace Baltimore) have closed down. The other five, including Puerto Rico Islanders, and Montreal Impact have joined the NASL. The new franchises are Atlanta Silverbacks, NSC Minnesota Stars and FC Edmonton. This is hardly national coverage. Minnesota and Edmonton find themselves a long way from the other sides in the league, while there is no one at all on the West Coast. Although Montreal Impact will leave at the end of the season to join the MLS, San Antonio Scorpions (from Texas) are confirmed as a new franchise for 2012, and it is expected that a renamed Baltimore team (no longer connected to Crystal Palace) will join.

The USSF provisional gave the new league its “Division 2 Sanction” last November, but they have since rescinded this, and more discussions are being held to decide whether the NASL will be at tier 2 or tier 3. If they do not get tier 2 sanction, then there will be no league at this level in the USA. In the meantime, the NASL has announced a programme giving each team 28 games (eight teams, playing home and away twice against every other team). Six out of the eight will play in the end of season play offs.

Chicago Fire take on the Mexican team, Monaracas Morelia in the SuperLiga

While the NASL and USL argue over who should run the second level of football in the USA, the most sensible answer to the question remains above this all. The answer in my mind is of course the MLS. If the MLS expands to 20 teams, then this will be the most that seriously be accommodated with each team playing all the others home and away – but it is unlikely to lead to the end of their expansionist policies. Most of the teams concerned spend a period in the lower divisions before progressing to the MLS. This helps prospective entrants to get their houses in order and to prove they can draw sufficient crowds to justify the step up.

So why should not the MLS create its own second division? Why shouldn’t the USA join in with most of the rest of the World and have at least a partial meritocracy in its football? Would Promotion and Relegation bring the walls crumbling down, or would it create a new interest in the game below the MLS?

The biggest problem would be on the financial side. The franchises have existing contracts with the NASL and USL, and as these organisations exist to make a profit not merely for the good of the game. In the short term some accommodation would have to be arrived at before a two division MLS could be considered.

In addition, the USSF document says that clubs in a division two league need to be able to put up a bond of US$750,000 to join the league. When switching to the MLS First division they have to be able to increase this funding significantly. Other considerations, such as facilities may need to be updated to allow a club to progress. In most European countries, a club has to pass licensing criteria in order to progress up the leagues, or if they wish to enter European competition. As an MLS second division would include teams that may not yet be up to playing at the top level, it too would need the equivalent of licensing to structure the promotion process.

In England, relegation is such a serious blow to a club that a “parachute” payment has to be made to clubs going down. This is due to the sudden loss of income from TV and sponsorship contracts that occurs when a club loses its position, while players’ contracts are not tied to the division, and still have to be paid after relegation. Strangely enough, this would be less of a problem in the MLS, as the majority of players’ contracts are held not by the clubs, but centrally by the league.

FIFA statute (number 19, paragraph 1) demands that the composition of leagues should primarily be on the basis of merit. The rule was brought in after several cases around Europe where clubs were effectively “franchised” and moved from one city to another. In particular, the extremely high profile transfer of the 1988 English cup winners Wimbledon to Milton Keynes created a high degree of publicity. At the time of introduction, FIFA promised that the rule would not be used against those countries which used franchising instead of promotion and relegation, and they have not even taken action against recent breaches of this rule, such as in Belgium, and Thailand.

Still, when the vote came from the 2022 World Cup venue, countries using the franchise system (USA and Australia) were overlooked in favour of technically inferior bid. The reasons behind the FIFA decision will be complex, but with Blatter have criticised the USA’s system in public, this cannot have helped. At the least, should a two division structure be on the table, it will not harm a USA bid for the 2026 World Cup

There are enough professional football teams in USA and Canada for a two division structure to make sense. Promotion and relegation will create a new degree of excitement. A reason to get behind struggling clubs as the season comes to a close, and hopes of a play-off position are long gone. A single body to govern and run both divisions would surely be the best way to ensure the stability of this structure.

* I have since been informed that I may not be correct in this assumption, and that NCAA players – so long as they are not paid themselves – can line up in semi-professional teams

Qatar: Ticketing Controversy overshadows the Final

Friday, February 4th, 2011

As the 2011 Asian Cup draws to its conclusion, I wonder what we have learnt from it, how this will affect the future of Asian Football, and also what this may mean for the World Cup when it comes to this tiny Emirate, the smallest country to stage the tournament.

But first, the quarter finals. In my last blog on the subject, I felt I could not see beyond group winners Japan and Uzbekistan winning the first pair, whereas the second set of matches would be much closer. In this I was correct, although none of the quartet provided a team with an easy route through.

The first match saw almost 20,000 at Al Gharafa as the hosts Qatar met Group B winners Japan. For Qatar, it would be their foreign born stars that held the key, and Sorria, born in Uruguay gave them an early lead, from an apparently offside position.

Shinji Kagawa restored parity soon afterwards, getting his head to a loose ball after Shinji Okazaki had tried to lob the home keeper.

With 27 minutes to play, Japan’s Moshida picked up his second yellow card, and from the resultant free kick, Fabio Cesar was to bundle Qatar back into the lead.

Japan would not take this lying down, and Kagawa again was on hand to level the scores, and then to claim the assist as Inaho scored the winner in the final minute.

An Earlier stop at AL Gharafa

At Khalifa, Uzbekistan reward for winning the group was a match against Jordan. Scoreless at the break, the Uzbeks then took a two goal lead within five minutes of the restart – both scored by Ulugbek Bakayev. Ten minutes later Bashir Bani Yaseen pulled one back for Jordan, but this was not to be enough and Uzbekistan went through.

Friday is a non working day in Qatar, so crowds were down again for the Saturday games. Only 7000 for South Korea and Iran, an intriguing contest between two teams meeting at this stage for the fifth successive time. It was unlikely there would be much between the teams and so it proved, with the only goal scored by Korean substitute Bit Garam Yoon midway through extra time.

A slightly larger crowd was at Al Sadd to see the Australians take on holder Iraq, and they had to wait even longer for a goal, the only one coming two minutes from the end of extra time, with Harry Kewell heading in a cross from Matt McKay.

And so on to the salient questions. Can Qatar hold a World Cup, and what will it be like for players and spectators? We can leave out the question of whether the cup should have been awarded here, as that is now in the past, and cannot be changed. I have no doubt that some journalists are still looking for the answers to why the Cup will be in Qatar.

Qatar can build things, so I feel safe in saying the stadiums will be built, and they will be of sufficient standard and numbers for the World Cup. More hotels and apartment buildings will be built, and there will be accommodation for those who can afford to stay. The infrastructure will improve. By 2022 there will be more roads, (but just as many traffic jams), and hopefully a rail and metro system as well.

Mall Life 1– inside the City Centre Mall

Everything will look good from a distance, but it may not stand too close scrutiny. On our trip we found much unfinished paving, even around finished projects, while more of the paving of the famous Corniche is broken than unbroken. In may other places we found that projects while ostensibly complete, had little faults that needed attention. Our hotel was a case in point. Failures of management and supervision – the inability to fix a leak, or provide the correct number of fresh towels, despite reminders gave us a poor impression of what was otherwise a good hotel.

The problem is in the way Qatari society is structured. The locals, on the whole are the owners of everything, and have great riches thanks to the oil boom. The work is done by the expatriate guest workers. The workers therefore are only there for the money, they put up with poor living and working conditions so long as they can make more money than at in their homeland, and send a surplus back to their families.

Naturally, there are some foreign workers coming into more senior positions, in management and engineering – but all the expats know their livelihood depends on not offending the bosses. This means there are very few people around that will say to the Qataris things like “This is not working” or “This is not the correct design”. Quite likely those that try to do this, soon find themselves looking for new employment.

The result is, at one end of the scale annoying faults in the hotel, but at the other end a piece of jagged metal sticking out of the ground, along an unfinished and unlit pathway between the road and Al Rayyan stadium, meaning one of our party suffered a painful gash on his leg, which needed medical attention.

For most of those that visit Qatar, the prospect is to spend time in comfortable, but expensive hotels. There is no sign of cheap options being made available, and if the tournament is held in the summer (as planned), then camping would not be an option. In January or February, it is a different matter.

Qatar is not cut off from the World, and is quite used to seeing foreigners walking down the street. They expect some respect to their customs, which generally means modest dress when one wanders around the city. Neither short skirts nor shorts are common. The exception seems to be the Corniche, where it seems quite acceptable for joggers and others taking their morning exercise to show some leg.

At the moment, alcohol sales are limited to a few bars in a few of the bigger hotels. One needs to show ID to get in, and there is a big disincentive for those thinking of getting drunk. The cheaper beers are around £6/pint. The good stuff costs more. I am sure that by 2022, there will have been some thought given to allowing the visiting football fans to get their drinks. I am sure prices will stay high, but there will be more availability.

Mall Life2 – Painted Ceilings

The real problem for football fans visiting Qatar during 2022 will be what to do when not watching football. At recent World Cups, just to see three group matches involves a serious amount of travelling and changing hotels. There has been a varied amount of sightseeing available around the country, and then the fans meet up socially, (and tend to drink a little).

In Qatar, it will be possible to pick a single base within Doha, and get to all the games without ever changing hotels. One can wander around the Corniche, Souq and a couple of museums in Doha, and spend a day or two on a desert safari. After that, there is nothing except the social and alcoholic options, and the football.

With two matches every day in the Asia Cup, the committed groundhopper keeps busy by seeing games every day. Even with this hectic schedule, we still had time to see most of the sights. At the World Cups in Germany and South Korea, I was more than happy to see matches such as Sweden v Trinidad & Tobago and Poland v USA – but the average football fan has little interest in these games. Even if tickets are much cheaper than recent world cups, fans will not be interested in many games beyond his own national team.

It is a football stadium! (Al-Sadd)

Even though Qatar is a peninsular with a long coastline, it is very short on beach resorts. The option of sitting around the pool with a cocktail and not leaving the hotel grounds for days at a time is hardly an option here. Even in the best run tournaments, there is always the risk that groups of fans can decide to make their own “entertainment”, and that this involves confrontation.

Enough of that for now, as the semi-finals have come and gone, and must be worth a mention, South Korea against Japan was the match I would have most liked to see, possibly as a final. The locals did not agree with me, and only 16,171 made their way to the Al Gharafa stadium for the first semi. It was a match requiring a stern referee, who knew what was and was not a penalty. It got Saudi Arabian Khalil Al Ghamdi. I do not know how good he is, as his only earlier game was the innocuous contest between South Korea and India, which I had not seen. He is experienced, having been at the last World Cup (nine yellow cards and one red in the Switzerland v Chile game). What I can say is that his penalty decisions this time were bitterly disputed.

The first was for South Korea, and involved Park Ji Sung being barged off the ball. The penalty given was hotly disputed, but this did not bother Ki Sung Yoo, who slotted the ball away. Ki then courted controversy by running towards the nearest camera and making “monkey gestures”, pulling and scratching his face. These are considered inflammatory to the Japanese, and the Celtic midfielder admitted reacting to a Japanese military flag held aloft in the stadium, but later suggested that his gesture was a reply to taunts from St Johnstone fans while he was playing for Celtic.

A lone spectator watches a game on a big screen, just outside the Khalifa Stadium. He cannot get closer as the car park between him and the screen is a “family area” with more guards outside, than people inside. The only other screen was in the Fun Zone, (which one has to pay to enter, and again has more guards than guests) – and this was positioned badly in the glare of the afternoon sun

South Korea soon had an appeal for a second penalty, again for a foul on Park Ji Sung, brushed aside before Japan levelled the scores through Ryoichi Maeda, slotting away a pass from Nagatomo. The second half was quieter in nature and led preceded the storm that was extra time. Hwang Jae-Song blocked Shinji Okazaki, making contact just outside the box, but the Japanese midfielder managed to fall the other side of the line, and another penalty was awarded.

Keisuke Honda’s kick was poor and game off the feet of Jung Sung-Ryong, but the fastest to react was Hajime Hosogai, who gave Japan the lead. This was held until the very end of extra time, when Hwang Jae-Song redeemed himself for the foul by thrashing home the loose ball after a goalmouth scramble.

The shootout was a victory for Japan’s Eiji Kawashima, who saved two Korean shots. Honda, despite having failed with his penalty during the game, made good with the first shot for Japan, then Koo Ja Cheol had his attempt saved. Okazaki made it 2-0, and a further save was made from Lee Yong-Rae’s shot. South Korea may have had some hope when Nagatoma failed to convert his penalty, but this was short lived as Hong Jeong-Ho missed the target. Yusuyuki Konno, who had conceded the foul for South Korea’s opening goal, was Japan’s fourth penalty taker, and gave them an unassailable 3-0 lead.

The Aspire Zone – on the left are two indoor arenas, one containing a swimming pool. The arches are the Khalifa stadium, while the big tower, known as the “Torch” contains restaurants and conference rooms

This was followed by Uzbekistan against Australia, (no time to get between games, but just enough for an advertising break if viewed on TV), played in front of a half full Khalifa stadium (given as 24,826). The Uzbeks were short of two key players – influential forward Aleksandr Geynrikh, and goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov. Both had been substituted during their quarter final. Ulugbek Bakayev, who had not played in the group games, but then partnered Geynrikh in the quarter final, (scoring both goals), started up front with Maksim Shatskikh. Shatskikh had himself missed out on the quarter finals. Temur Juraev, who came on for Nesterov in the quarter final continued between the sticks. It is fair to say that the Australians had been fortunate on the injury front, and fielded their strongest XI.

The Uzbek defence was soon found wanting, as Harry Kewell, attacking down the left put Australia into the lead after just five minutes. Ognenovski added a second before the break, and then the floodgates burst, as Bakayev received a second yellow card, and Australia added four more goals in the final 25 minutes.

From the Corniche, the new towers compete for attention

The official crowd given for the final was around 37,000 – indeed exactly one more person was recorded at this match than for the opener at the same stadium. The veracity of the figures are somewhat in doubt, despite the use of computerised turnstiles, which should accurately record the numbers in the stadium.

Throughout the tournament, the ticketing and attendances have been questioned. Some of the crowds given have been very small, but eye-witnesses have suggested the numbers in the stadium are even smaller. For the first two India games at Al-Sadd, people looking for tickets were turned away, but official figures show 25% (around 3000) seats empty. Once inside the stadiums, confusing reigns, as the stewarding is not sufficient to send individuals to the correct seats. Many were told to “sit anywhere”, and hence ended up taking seats in a higher pricing category than they had paid for. Later arrivals, having paid for these seats would have no assistance in moving people from their allocated seats, or finding suitable alternatives.

Meanwhile, there was criticism of the low numbers in attendance. The actual crowd figures were very variable, but a few matches had astonishing low crowds. Some of this is due to the compact nature of the tournament, meaning locals would pick and choose which matches to go to. The matches involving Qatar, and those involving countries with large numbers of expats (notably India and Syria) all got good crowds.

Restaurants in the Souq. In many places, a local cannot order a meal in his own language, as many waiters do not speak Arabic

Although Football is the number one spectator sport in Qatar and the country has a professional league – it does not publish its attendance figures.

Anyway, for the final, it appears the authorities were nervous of the idea of empty stands being shown on worldwide TV for this showpiece event. They will have known the numbers of advance ticket sales, but either this was insufficient, or they felt many would fail to turn up, with the match on television, and Qatar already eliminated.

SO in the hours before kick-off, a large number of people were admitted into the stadium without tickets. Some reports suggest students were encouraged to take up the opportunity.

The stadium is next to the country’s most popular shopping mall, and on a Saturday evening, this means heaving. With this and a big match in proximity, parking is at a premium, and the area’s road system soon gets clogged with traffic. Most locals should know that this is a problem, and plan accordingly.

And then, the Emir arrives. As always the ruler of the country arrives under strict security, and not long before the event starts. All the other gates to the stadium are closed during this time. Reports say that the gates did not open again, even though many ticket holders were left outside.

After initially denying that anything untoward had happened, the organisers first admitted 700 ticket holders had been denied entry, and now accept the numbers are somewhat greater – possibly around 3000. Ticket holders can now get a refund of their admission price, (but not of course, any other expenses incurred).

For the final, Japan were without the injured Shinji Kagawa, whose foot injury will mean missing most or all of the rest of Borussia Dortmund’s season. Australia had the best of the game, and the man of the match was given as Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. For Australia, Matt McKay had another good game (which must push him onto European club radar). McKay is one of the few “Socceroos” to have spent his career with Australian teams, except for short loan periods in Korea and China.

Only later in the second half did Japan really get into the game, with Shinji Okazaki coming close. Okazaki has been one of the (relatively few) discoveries of the tournament, and has since moved to Stuttgart. The match by a single goal in the second period of extra time, Nagatomo found space on the left flank and crossed to substitute Tadanari Lee, who hit a first time volley which flew into the net.

Although those on the pitch were probably enough, the evening was finished with more fireworks off the pitch (and some complaining they were kept in the stadium against their will).