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
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