Thursday, December 16, 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 8

Semi-final 2, leg 1 in Jakarta, Indonesia

Philippines 0 Indonesia 1

Christian Gonzalez headed home the only goal of the game on 30 minutes to give the Indonesians the slender one-goal advantage at Bung Karno Stadium in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals on Thursday.

Originally to be held in the Philippines, the game was shifted to Indonesia as the designated hosts did not have the facilities that meet the minimum FIFA standard for an international tournament.

Despite playing away, the Azkals put up a credible performance against a capacity Senayan crowd and nearly levelled the score in the second half when Phil Younghusband's acrobatic shot was headed off the line by an Indonesian defender.

Both sides will remain in Jakarta for the second leg of the semis which will be played at the same ground on Sunday evening.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 7

Semi final 1, leg 1 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia 2 Vietnam 0

Defending champions Vietnam lost their second game of the Suzuki Cup when a Safee Sali double handed the hosts a two-goal advantage in the first leg of their semi-final clash at Bukit Jalil Stadium on Wednesday.

Despite throwing everything at the Tigers, the Vietnamese could not find a way past the stubborn Malaysia rearguard and were restricted to half attempts outside the box.

It took a goalkeeping blooper at the other end to hand Malaysia the lead early in the second half when Safee headed in off an indirect free kick which the custodian flapped and allowed the ball to zip into the net.

He doubled the lead at the closing stages of the game when he latched on to the loose ball and smashed home the rebound in the box.

The second leg will take place at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi on Saturday evening. Should the Malaysians hang on for an aggregate or penalty shootout win, this will be the first time K. Rajagobal's men will reach the final in the biennial tournament since its first edition back in 1996.

Monday, December 13, 2010

All-Asian Quarters Result

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of South Korea defeated hosts Al Wahda of UAE 4-1 to earn a semi-final date with UEFA Champions League holders Inter Milan on Wednesday 15 December.

Full match report from can be found here. The winner of this semis will either meet Internacional of Brazil or Tout Puissant Mazembe of Tanzania in the final, with the losers fighting out for third-placing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Nicky Butt Will Play in The AFC Cup

According to BBC Sport, former England international Nicky Butt has agreed to a contract that will see him feature for Hong Kong giants South China until May 2011.

This will also probably be quietly celebrated among the fans in India, Thailand and Indonesia as the former Manchester United, Birmingham City and Newcastle United midfielder is also going to play for his new employers at the group stage.

One-time semi-finalists South China are pooled in Group H of the AFC Cup alongside Indian club Kingfisher East Bengal, Thai FA Cup winners Chonburi FC and Indonesian side Persipura Jayapura.

Imagine the bald midfield general commanding his colleagues at sweltering heat in the dusty pitch in India, bear with the equatorial humidity in Thailand as well as deal with more fanatical and crazed fans in Indonesia, especially all calling out for his name. That will be a very nice sight.

2010 FIFA Club World Cup Round 1

Result of first day of match action in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Al Wahda (United Arab Emirates) 3 Hekari United (Papua New Guinea) 0

Hosts Al Wahda will now face AFC Champions League 2010 winner Seongnam Ilhwa Chunwa of South Korea in the quarter-finals for the right to face UEFA Champions League 2010 winner Inter Milan of Italy.

AFF Suzuki Cup Group B: Vietnam 1 Singapore 0 - The Writing Was On the Wall Before the Tournament

Have the Lions, and their national head coach Radjoko Avramovic, appeared to have learnt anything from the debacles they had endured this year? If the result that sent Singapore crashing out of the AFF Suzuki Cup meant any significance, it was simply nope.

Similar tactics, just as it was two years ago when we crashed out to our regional nemesis in the semi-finals of the previous edition. The same faces in the squad, barring a few absentees this time due to injury and other reasons. Shahril Ishak may be the new national team captain, but there is still no real leader in the team. Same old, same old.

In the prepartory tournament Singapore participated in in the same nation where our regional aspirations were put to rest, there were some new caps, with one player Adrian Dhanaraj of Geylang United featuring significantly.

Then in February's King's Cup, a few players such as Jeremy Chiang also earned their maiden international caps. Looking back right now, anyone could not help but wonder whether the erstwhile Serbian tactician had given away international caps like freebies dished out at MacDonald's or elsewhere in Singapore.

But when it came to naming the provisional squad for this biennial tournament, the same faces came back into the fold. Nothing wrong with that, but when a few potential contenders for the final squad places, save for Shahdan Sulaiman, did not even make that cut, questions ought to be raised.

Have Avramovic, team manager Eugene Loo, assistant coach Aleksandar Bozenko or goalkeeper coach Lee Bee Seng travelled around Indonesia enough, if at all, to assess the form of the internationals based there? Phone calls to the coaches of clubs such as Persija Jakarta, Arema and Persib Bandung or Indonesian contacts might not be sufficient.

Then there is the Young Lions. Sure, this Football Association of Singapore club side is meant to help promising young footballers. But the one player after the Baihakki, Shahril Ishak and Ridhuan cohort who has emerged as a serious contender for the starting eleven has never even played for this club side.

The only Young Lions to feature in the final squad of 22 were Afiq Yunos and Safuwan Baharudin. Neither excelled in what was a troubled season for the club, and were part of the Asian Games team that flopped in Guangzhou even before the flame was lit.

There was also the ingenuity of Football Association of Singapore technical director Slobodan Pavkovic. Following the National Football Syllabus which makes him a perfect curriculum director candidate for the Ministry of Education in Singapore, he decided to introduce the 4-2-3-1 tactical system to be implemented from the youth teams all the way up to the senior international squad.

Again nothing wrong, ideally this should be the way youth footballers ought to be taught in their football education. Just that Avramovic's tactical evolvement over the years from 4-2-1-3 in 2004 to the present 4-4-2 variations conflicted with his fellow Serbian's plans. Perhaps behind the walls of the Jalan Besar buildings, both men could have clashed over their differing football ideologies.

Now looking into Avramovic's seven-year plus tenure with the Singapore national team, the present class of 2010 is the product of his tactical and football policies he has imprinted in the side, especially with the Young Lions.

Many of the present local-born players in the team, including several foreign talents, have come through this Young Lions factory. They have played together in Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games and other international tournaments, so the familiarity is there.

But is this familiarity among the players also possibly shaped into different factions into the team, as this side is without a genuine leader who can rally the players on and off the pitch following the exit of Aide Iskandar and S Subramani in 2007?

While there is some talent, somehow the pieces are unable to fit nicely as one complete jigsaw puzzle on the pitch after 2007. It is strange that the players, barring the above-mentioned recently retired former internationals, who were part of the successful Asean teams in 2005 and 2007, are now flops at the regional stage.

If there is still the 2011 AFC Asian Cup finals to look forward to, then the Lions will probably regroup and aim to impress at the group stage had they held Jordan to a draw in Amman in March. But no, now there is nothing to look forward to on the international calendar for the next six months at least.

After enduring so many frustrations with the Singapore football system, the players as well as the national team, could this finally be the breaking point for Avramovic, one of the longest serving national team coaches in Singapore's history?

If so, already pundits and fans alike have thrown in names to replace the Serb. But Bolabang believes the hot seat will eventually fall on Pavkovic, whose last coaching job was in the Middle East with the Kuwaiti national team, and Singapore could see a repeat of what had happened to Jan Poulsen when he took on the dual role of technical director and national coach.

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 6

Group B

Philippines 0 Myanmar 0 (Nam Dinh, Vietnam)
Vietnam 1 Singapore 0 (Hanoi, Vietnam)

Three-time Asean champions Singapore joined Thailand as the early casualties in the AFF Suzuki Cup after crashing 1-0 to co-hosts and defending champions Vietnam in their final Group B match at My Dinh Stadium on Wednesday evening.

The only goal of the game came through a sucker-punch counter-attacking manuvere following a clearance of a Lions' corner just after the half-hour.

Pham Thanh Luong provided the low cross on the right for Nguyen Vu Phong, who was free on the left side, to slide the ball in between Hassan Sunny's legs and into the net for the only goal of the game.

Despite sustained pressure from the Lions in the second half, the Vietnamese held on for the win they needed to reach the semis.

Meanwhile, Myanmar held surprise packages Philippines to a goalless in the other match played at Nam Dinh. The point was sufficient enough for the Azkals to finish second in the group behind the co-hosts and make the last four for the first time in their regional football history.

Final Group B Standings

   Team              P  W  D  L   F   A  Pts
1 Vietnam         3   2   0   1   8   3  6
2 Philippines    3   1   2   0   3   1  5
3 Singapore     3   1   1   1   3   3  4
4 Myanmar       3   0   1   2   2   9  1

So the complete two-leg semi-final match-ups to be played as follows:-

15 Dec - Malaysia v Vietnam (Kuala Lumpur or Shah Alam)
16 Dec - Philippines v Indonesia (to be played at a neutral venue)
18 Dec - Vietnam v Malaysia (Hanoi)
19 Dec - Indonesia v Philippines (Jakarta)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bryan Robson Should Remain Manchester United Ambassador

Not every great player becomes an equally great manager.

After flopping with English club sides Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion, former Manchester United and England legend Bryan Robson has not only failed to help Thailand reach the 2011 AFC Asian Cup finals in Qatar, but also contrived to send the once-fearsome powerhouses out of the AFF Suzuki Cup at the group stage.

Even former English teammate Peter Reid has modestly managed to bring the Thais to the final of the last edition before returning to familiar pastures in England. What an amazing turnaround Robson has done for Thailand in his more-than-a-year tenure.

The last time a manager, who was a former German World Cup finalist named Sigfried Held, failed to get the Thais past the group stage of the biennial tournament, then named the AFF Tiger Cup, he was promptly given the boot - three months after the debacle while seeing his home country humble his employers 5-1 in Bangkok in between.

Robson is unlikely to escape the long knives that await him when the team return to Bangkok (with probably protesters from both political camps waiting to throw rotten tom yam and all) following the latest fiasco.

When he was first appointed by FIFA Executive Committee member and Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Worawi Makudi to succeed Reid after the latter left to become Tony Pulis' sidekick at Premiership club Stoke City, it was supposed to be a personal revival of his flagging managerial fortunes and help bring the Thais to a new level of glory after Kiatisuk Senamuang, J Surachai and company in the last decade.

It was anything but. After beating Singapore 3-1 away in his first competitive game in charge of the team in the Asian Cup qualifiers, he then immediately lost the home leg to the same team days later in Bangkok.

Following failure to qualify for the Asian Cup, which ended a streak of appearances that had started from 1992 to 2007, he had now failed to gel a team of talented individuals to get the results that mattered.

The lack of preparation (Robson only had one day before the first group game to train the squad as a whole after the majority were involved in the Thai FA Cup final a week before the international tournament) could be pointed out as a major factor behind this fiasco.

But the combination of physical fatigue and probable unwillingness of the Thais to fully cooperate with him and Steve Darby, former assistant coach now technical director at FAT, has lef to this fiasco, possibly even worse than the 2004 situation. When a team refuse to listen to their head coach, his days are numbered.

Like UEFA President Michel Platini, Sir Bobby Charlton, Diego Maradona and many legends before him, the former brave midfield general should possibly have realised his true limits in terms of managing a football team in an environment where results mean life or death for the man in the hot seat.

He should now concentrate on doing what he has done best in his other present football capacity - to be a global ambassador for English giants Manchester United. His passion and enthusiasm for the game will inspire many youths worldwide to pick up the sport, and his presence in these lands will help cultivate the game.

But World Cup 2014 in Brazil for Thailand - as envisioned by the man Worawi himself - after all these under this gentleman? You are having a laugh.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 5

Group A

Malaysia 5 Laos 1 (Palembang, Indonesia) 
Indonesia 2 Thailand 1 (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Thailand crashed out of the AFF Suzuki Cup group stage after losing 2-1 to co-hosts Indonesia in their final group game at Bung Karno Stadium on Tuesday evening.

Suree Sukha gave the visitors the lead in the match they must win to seal their progression into the last four, but two late penalties from substitute Bambang Pangmukas ensured the Indonesians maintain their perfect record in the competition.

Pipping the Thais to second spot in the group was Malaysia, who prevailed by crushing Laos 5-1 in the simultaneous game held at Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang.

Amri Yahaya netted a brace in the first half, with Laos forward Lamnao Singto replying in between. Further goals in the second half from Amirulhadi Zainal, Nohshahrul Idlan Talaha and Mahali Jasuli sealed the semi-finals place for K. Rajagobal's men.

Indonesia will now visit Group B runners-up in the first leg of the semi-finals on 16 December, with the return leg held in Jakarta three days later.

Meanwhile, Malaysia will host Group A winners on 15 December, before travelling away on 18 December.

Final Group A standings

   Team         P W D L F A  Pts
1 Indonesia  3  3  0  0 13 2  9
2 Malaysia   3  1  1  1  6 6    4
3 Thailand    3  0  2  1  3 4    2
4 Laos          3  0  1  2  3 13 1

Tampines Rovers v Nicky Butt no more...

Nicky Butt (right) celebrates after scoring on his debut for South China. (Photo by AP, taken from BBC Sport.)
It could have been more than 5,000 turning up at Jalan Besar if former England international and Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt extends his present three-month contract with Hong Kong champions South China and plays in Singapore for his club in the AFC Cup 2011.

Alas, this is not to be as South China are drawn into Group H alongside Thai FA Cup champions Chonburi FC, Indonesian side Persipura Jayapura and Indian side Kingfisher East Bengal.

While Tampines Rovers will await one of the losers of the 2011 AFC Champions League playoffs, V-League champions Hanoi T&T and Maldivian FA Cup winners Victory SC, it is the fate of the draw that ensures Butt will not step onto Singapore soil since the Red Devils' Asian tour in 1999.

The Indonesians will be relatively cool about all things English football, but the Thais and Indians could go crazy over this potential appearance of one of the most famed Fergie Fledglings, who emerged alongside David Backham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers to become one of the stars for Manchester United.

The Thais will fancy their aging ace Therdsak Chaiman pitting his abilities against the one-time World Cupper while the Indians, with their one-time affiliation with English club side Leicester City, could relish his presence on their soil.

As for the Singaporeans, they will have to keep waiting for the next English star after Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and Bryan Robson in 2009. Until then, they will have to be content with the Maldivians, Vietnamese and possibly the Arab shiekhs.

Group Draws for 2011 AFC Champions League and AFC Cup

AFC Cup 2011

Group A: AFC Champions League Loser 2 (West), Nasaf Qrashi (Uzbekistan), Al Ansar (Lebanon), Al Tilal (Yemen)
Group B: AFC Champions League Loser 1 (West), Al Qadsia (Kuwait), Shurtan (Uzbekistan), Al Saqr (Yemen)
Group C: Al Faisaly (Jordan), Duhok (Iraq), Al Nasr (Kuwait), Al Jaish (Syria)
Group D: Al Suwaiq (Oman), Al Whedat (Jordan), Al Talaba (Iraq), Kuwait SC (Kuwait)
Group E: Al Ahed (Lebanon), Al Oruba/ Fnjaa (Oman), Al Karamah (Syria), Arbil (Iraq)
Group F: AFC Champions League Loser 2 (East), TSW Pegasus (Hong Kong), Song Nam Le Ahn (Vietnam), VB (Maldives)
Group G: Tampines Rovers (Singapore), AFC Champions League Loser 1 (East), Hanoi T&T (Vietnam), Victory (Maldives)
Group H: South China (Hong Kong), Persipura Jayapura (Indonesia), Chonburi (Thailand), Kingfisher East Bengal (India)

AFC Champions League

Playoff West

Round 1: Al Sadd (Qatar) v Al Ittihad (Syria)
Round 2: Winner of Round 1 v Dempo SC (India)

Playoff East

Round 1: Sriwijaya (Indonesia) v Muangthong United (Thailand)
Round 2: Winner of Round 1 v Al Ain (UAE)

Group A: Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia), Foolad Sepahan (Iran), Al Jazira (UAE), Al Garafa (Qatar)
Group B: Al Nassr (Saudi Arabia), Esteghal (Iran), Pathakor (Uzbekistan), West playoff winner
Group C: Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia), Piroozi (Iran), Al Wahda (UAE), Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan)
Group D: Al Shabab (Saudi Arabia), Zob Ahan (Iran), Emirates Club (UAE), Al Rayyan (Qatar)
Group E: Jeju United (South Korea), Tianjin Teda (China), Gamba Osaka (Japan), Melbourne Victory (Australia)
Group F: FC Seoul (South Korea), Hangzhou Greentown (China), Nagoya Grampus Eight (Japan), East playoff winner
Group G: Jeonbuk Motors (South Korea), Shandong Luneng (China), Cerezo Osaka (Japan), Arema Indonesia (Indonesia)
Group H: Suwon Samsung Bluewings (South Korea), Shanghai Shenhua (China), Emperor's Cup winner or Kashima Antlers (Japan), Sydney FC (Australia)

Monday, December 6, 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Group Equations

Before the final round of the AFF Suzuki Cup group matches get underway on 7-8 December, Bola Bang takes a look at the possible permutations for the teams still aspiring to reach the last four.

Group A standings so far

    Team                P  W  D  L  F    A  Pts
1  Indonesia         2   2   0   0  11  1   6
2  Thailand           2   0   2   0   2   2   2
3  Malaysia          2   0   1   1   1   5   1
4  Laos                 2   0   1   1   2   8   1

Matches - 7 December

Malaysia v Laos
Indonesia v Thailand

Indonesia have already qualified for the semi-finals and secured Group A as winners so it leaves the other three teams to fight it out for second place.

Thailand will progress if they beat the co-hosts in their final group game. They can also advance with a draw provided the other game also ends in a stalemate.

If Thailand lose though and the other game ends in a draw, they can only afford to lose by at most a three-goal deficit to avoid the lottery of having to decide by the number of goals scored to determine which team join Indonesia in the last four.

Malaysia or Laos can advance into the semis with an outright win over the other in the group game, and hope Thailand do not beat Indonesia in the other match.

Malaysia can still finish second in the group if they draw and Thailand lose by a margin of more than four goals. Should the Thais lose by four goals, the Malaysians will need a higher scoring draw than the total number of goals the Thais can muster in the group stage.

Group B standings so far

   Team                     P  W  D  L  F  A  Pts

1 Philippines            2  1   1   0   3  1  4
2 Singapore             2  1   1   0   3  2  4
3 Vietnam                 2  1   0   1   7  3  3
4 Myanmar               2  0   0    2   2  9  0 

Matches - 8 December

Philippines v Myanmar
Vietnam v Singapore

Myanmar cannot progress beyond the group stage of the tournament, but a win over surprise group leaders Philippines will help Singapore and Vietnam, who have a superior goal difference than the leaders, progress provided the other game ends in a draw.

Philippines only need at least a draw to finish among the top two in the pool. For them to finish first, they will either need a better win margin than Singapore or hope both games end in draws.

Singapore also need at least a point to advance into the last four. They will need to achieve a higher margin of victory than the Philippines to finish first if both of them win their final respective group matches. They can also finish top with a win and a Filipino draw.

Vietnam must win their final group game against Singapore to continue their defence of the Suzuki Cup beyond the first round. They will only finish top if they win and Philippines draw.

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 4

Group B in Hanoi, Vietnam

Singapore 2 Myanmar 1
Vietnam 0 Philippines 2

After stunning Singapore with a last-gasp equaliser in the opening group game, the Philippines have gone one better by producing one of the shocks of the Suzuki Cup with a 2-0 win over co-hosts Vietnam at My Dinh Stadium on Sunday evening.

Chris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband netted on either side of half-time to stun the defending champions to send the Azkals top of the pool ahead of the Lions on goal difference.

In the earlier match, Agu Casmir netted an injury-time winner to help Singapore earn three points after Aleksandar Duric cancelled out a first-half goal from Khin Muang Lwin just after the hour.

The victory left the Lions second in the group behind the Philippines and one point ahead of the Vietnamese ahead of the all-important clash on Wednesday. Myanmar, meanwhile, are eliminated from the tournament at the pool stage.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup Group B: Singapore 2 Myanmar 1

Singapore lived to fight another day in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, thanks to another dramatic late goal - in their favour this time.

The man of the moment was half-time substitute Agu Casmir who fed off an Aleksandar Duric feed to volley home inside the box with the score delicately balanced at 1-1.

This was scant reward for their second-half performance that saw them bombard the Myanmarese goal at will after an abject first 45 minutes.

The less said about the opening half, the better. Making three changes from the eleven that faced the Philippines back on Thursday, none looked the part as the white shirts took to them at will.

It only took Myanmar just 12 minutes to send Singapore on the verge of elimination when a Aye San cutting pass on the right, with a Yan Paing dummy, found Muang Lwin Khin inside the box.

Muang exposed the huge gaps in the Singapore defence to smash home past Hassan Sunny.

Singapore's response after the early setback left so much to be desired, making viewers back home wonder if they were really bothered or interested to play for the country and in this tournament.

Duric and Noh Alam Shah had another ineffective first 45 minutes, with the latter proving to be very blunt and giving no problems to the Myanmar defenders.

Long balls and passes often went astray as the central midfield partnership of Fahrudin Mustafic and Isa Halim sat either too deep or too far away to either assist the attack or anchor the fragile back four.

Juma'at Jantan was again very wasteful in possession in the first half, possibly justifying his club coach's decision to bench him for prolonged parts of the 2010 domestic season.

Precious Emuejeraye, starting in place of the injured Daniel Bennett, was Precious Emuejeraye, often caught out on the turn and speed of the white shirts. His defensive partner Baihakki Khaizan was equally guilty in allowing Myanmar to run at them at will.

Shahril Ishak could do nothing as very little came his way and Ridhuan Muhammad played as though Singapore were keeping possession in the corner flag after going 5-0 up (when the reality was the Lions trailing by 1-0).

Cue perhaps one of the strongest talking-tos inside the dressing room by Singapore coach Radjoko Avramovic and the double substitution - Casmir and Khairul Amri - seemed to rejuvenate the team in the second half.

Often laying seige at Thiha Si Thu's goal, the Lions were eventually rewarded for their attacking pressure when Casmir drew the goalkeeper out and laid the simplest of finishes for Duric to tap into an empty net just after the hour.

The further introduction of Shahdan Sulaiman allowed the three-time Asean champions to play the football they are capable of. Skipper Shahril Ishak stepped up and created many opportunities that had the fast-tiring opponents in sixes and sevens inside their own area.

Still, the final decision at the other end left much to be desired as Thiha did not really have to sweat until the last 15 minutes. The defence remained very fragile, although Juma'at improved in his possession and Baihakki proving to be a better forward than defender. Gaps remained open and stronger opponents would have ensured that the temporary joy be short-lived.

It could still have been all over for Singapore had Yan's free strike inside the box not hit the woodwork five minutes after the equaliser. The ball crashed out and the red shirts continued to live to fight for another day with Agu's winning goal - and eliminate Myanmar from the cup at the group stage.

Four points in the bag after two games on paper seemed satisfactory, but the game of two halves cleared showed the very best and utmost worst of the Lions in this tournament.

The eleven that stayed on the pitch at the final whistle, barring Noh Rahman who is suspended for their final group game after picking up his second yellow card of the campaign, should start against Vietnam on Wednesday.

Notwithstanding our continuing defensive vulnerabilities and deficiencies, this was the line-up that probably finally convinced Avramovic that it should be starting eleven for the remainder of the Suzuki Cup, however far they would go.

Creative passing and attacking football from Shahril and Shahdan, and hard running and holding against a sea of defenders by strikers Duric and Casmir would give the Lions great foundations in midfield and attack, and compensate for the defensive frailities in the back four.

Whether they would be able to settle their private differences at training and inside the hotel rooms and give a stronger performance than what Singaporeans saw in the second half would provide a glimmer of hope for our regional title aspirations as the tournament progresses.

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 3

Group A in Jakarta, Indonesia

Thailand 0 Malaysia 0
Indonesia 6 Laos 0

Indonesia became the first team to seal a place in the semi-finals with an emphatic 6-0 thrashing of Laos in their second Group A match at Stadium Bung Karno on Saturday evening.

The result also ensured the Indonesians finish top spot in the pool, whatever the outcome in their final group match against the Thais on 7 December. That will give them home advantage in the return leg of the two-legged semis.

After Laos almost took the lead against the run of play early in the game, a penalty conversion from skipper Firman Utina started the rout. He added another, with further goals coming from Muhammad Ridwan, Irfan Bachdim, Arif Suyono and Oktovianus Maniani

Meanwhile in the earlier group game, Thailand endured another frustrating outing as Malaysia held them to a goalless draw.

The outcomes leave the remaining three teams in the group in contention to join the co-hosts into the next stage with one more round of group games to go.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Million Dollar Incentive

According to reliable sources, Indonesia's main football governing body PSSI are set to offer one million USD for the entire team and coaching staff as reward should they win the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup.

Thus the pressure is on Alfred Riedl and the Indonesians to deliver the goods and win the tournament for the first time.

So far, PSSI have managed to obtain more than half the reward amount, with the rest to be raised for the remainder of the campaign.

With match-fixing still the main bugbear of football in this region, it is probably hoped that the hefty prize money will "de-bribe" the players into delivering the goods so that they will not only put themselves into the history books as the first Indonesian national team to win the biennial regional affair, but also earn some financial jackpot the right way.

The PSSI have thrown the gauntlet to its national team, now will the FAT, FAS, FAM and VFF respond with similar cash incentives?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

D-Day for World Cups 2018 and 2022

Here are the results that have just been announced by FIFA Secretary-General Sepp Blatter (The writer has been following the updates from BBC Sport this evening for this moment of truth.)

2018 FIFA World Cup hosts - Russia

Voting Results (22 votes by FIFA Executive Committee, 12 to win)

Round 1

Russia 9 votes
Spain/ Portugal 7 votes
Netherlands/ Belgium 4 votes
England 2 votes (Eliminated)

Round 2

Russia 13 votes (Russia wins absolute majority.)
Spain/ Portugal 7 votes
Netherlands/ Belgium 2 votes

2022 FIFA World Cup hosts - Qatar

Voting Results (same as 2018 vote, 12 votes out of 22 for majority)

Round 1

Qatar 11 votes
South Korea 4 votes
Japan 3 votes
USA 3 votes
Australia 1 vote (Eliminated)

Round 2

Qatar 10 votes
South Korea 5 votes
USA 5 votes
Japan 2 votes (Eliminated)

Round 3

Qatar 11 votes
USA 6 votes
South Korea 5 votes (Eliminated)

Round 4

Qatar 14 votes (Qatar win absolute majority.)
USA 8 votes

There Bola Bang told you, Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 2

Group B in Hanoi, Vietnam

Singapore 1 Philippines 1
Vietnam 7 Myanmar 1

Chris Greatwich netted a last-gasp equaliser in injury time to cancel out Aleksandar Duric's second half opener to hand the Philippines a shock 1-1 draw with Singapore in the opening game at My Dinh Stadium.

Defending champions and co-hosts Vietnam then signalled their intentions to keep the title for the second straight edition running with an emphatic 7-1 thumping over Myanmar in the other game.

A brace each from Nguyen Anh Duc and substitute Nguyen Trong Hoang, and further goals from Le Tan Tai, Nguyen Minh Phuong and Nguyen Vu Phong sealed the three points for the home side while Myanmar replied in the first half through Aung Kyaw Moe.

Hail the Azkals!

The Philippines' stunning 1-1 stalemate with favourites Singapore will rank as one of their best results in their international football history.

Coached by Englishman Simon McMenemy, the Azkals belied their so-called minnow status in regional football by giving as good as they got, matching their so-called more superior opponents for much of the game.

Only in the job for just more than three months, the former non-league assistant manager has worked some kind of miracle into the team, blending in the foreign-born Filipino-blood imports with the locals into a formidable unit.

While the process of naturalising these imports for Philippines football has begun way back in 2004 with the arrivals of goalscorer Chris Greatwitch, Chad Gould and the Younghusband brothers, Philip and James, it is the influx of the likes of Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, Jason de Jong and Ray Jonsson who have greatly strengthened the side.

Etheridge, save for the goal he conceded, was a rock that the Lions endured a frustrating evening gettting past. He was probably the main reason why his side were in contention for the game they held their own for so long before their deserved equaliser.

While their tactic forward was virtually a throwback of the old-fashioned long ball forward, such was its effectiveness, coupled with the clever exploitation of space and poor positioning by the Lions, that Singapore were never given an easy ride at all.

The Philippines will probably still not make it past the group stage, but their precious one point could pave the way for more miracles in that team, and probably spice up the passion of football in the basketball and Pacaqiao-mad nation.

AFF Suzuki Cup Group B: Singapore 1 Philippines 1

A Chris Greatwitch equaliser in the third minute of injury time help the Philippines to a shock 1-1 draw with Singapore in their opening Group B encounter at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi.

It cancelled the lead the Lions took in the 65th minute through Aleksandar Duric who headed home off a Noh Alam Shah assist on the goalline.

The last-gasp goal was unsurprising giving the shocking defending Singapore had consistently displayed, especially when they were caught on the counter attacks.

Credit to the Philippines, who were regarded as many before the tournament as one of the whipping boys, but more on that in another entry.

Let us just focus on the Lions.

The two points lost, as many aggreived Singapore fans could call it, was probably the best wake-up call the national team needed.

Against more credible opposition than initially thought, they found themselves at times on the backfoot as the Azkals poured men forward with nothing to lose.

The back four of Juma'at Jantan, Noh Rahman, Daniel Bennett and Baihakki Khaizan were at times caught flat-footed in defence as the blue shirts countered and exploited the generosity of space left behind by the midfield duo of Fahrudin Mustafic and Shahdan Sulaiman.

While the Lions gradually played the better football as time wore on, much was left to be desired at the other end as well. For all the passing and creativity, the final killer pass and finish was sorely and ominously lacking.

Philippines goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was the revelation of the finals with his outstanding performances between the posts. Commanding in the box, the Fulham third-choice custodian was not afraid to rush out and snuff out any potential damage the Lions could throw at him.

The best chance before the opening goal came from Shahdan, who had an impressive outing in his first competitive international start. Showing vision to be at the right place at the right time, his goal-bound chip inside the six-yard box was hacked away by Pinoy centre-back Anton Del Rosario before the ball could bounce further into the net.

Apart from that, Singapore were generally very wasteful in front of goal. The first half was a warning sign of things to come and too many long balls were pumped forward. Same old story once again. Nothing had changed, had it?

The second half saw better Lions passing on the ground, but the defending remained woeful. It only took Singapore this long to be finally punished.

Now it is back to the drawing board for Radjoko Avramovic and his men as their qualification hopes from the group stage plunge into jeporady.

The writer has privately predicted Singapore to exit from the group stage, now this looks to be reality after 8 December.

Only the Lions know what they have to do before more cracks emerge on the pitch for the remainder of the tournament, however long.

Bola Bang's Picks on World Cup host (Particularly 2022)

2 December 2010 will see the hosts of FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2022 being decided in Zurich, Switzerland.

With such intense build-up to the bids, no surprises when conspiracy theories and accusations begin to fly from different corners of the ring.

2018 is set to be held in Europe, whether it goes to England (my personal choice), Holland-Belgium, Spain-Portgual or Russia.

What is more interesting is the race for the 2022 bid. Co-hosts of the 2002 edition, South Korea and Japan, have presented separate bids this time. The other contenders are Australia, 1994 hosts United States of America and Qatar.

This could well be a much closer and possibly controversial call on who will get to host in 2022. I am certain that edition will be held in the most populous continent, so sorry Yanks better luck next time.

That leaves the quartet of Australia, South Korea, Japan and Qatar. It is lamentable that the present poor state of Chinese football domestically and internationally have ensured that China will at best present a bid for 2026 and beyond, otherwise it will probably be a less tight contest that it is in the present.

Despite their strong football cultures and institutionalisation, South Korea and Japan will probably be out of the running as they have hosted the first World Cup of this century. So only two remain: Australia and Qatar. Neither of them have hosted the World Cup, even though Australia played host to the Summer Olympics twice (in 1956 and 2000).

The Aussies have a strong sports culture. Their sporting infrastructure is one of the best in the world and their successful track record of hosting large-scale international events put them in good stead to host the world's biggest and most prestigious sporting showcase.

While the Qataris' sporting culture is still relatively in its infancy, they have the gold and ambition to be the first nation from the Middle East to host any international event of significance.

Their successful running of the 2006 edition of the Asian Games, while at a few quarters pointing it as very football-centric (as hosts they won the prized gold medal in football that year), puts them in good stead in convincing the key men in the corridors of FIFA of their case.

And they have one man who can really make all this possible. His name: Mohammad bin Hammam.

FIFA vice-president and AFC chief, the Qatari has brought Asian football to the dizzying heights it is enjoying today with his persistence and vision for the betterment of the game in this part of the world.

With all the frantic lobbying going on in Switzerland, be prepared for a few surprises when the votes are finally tallied and the hosts decided come Thursday evening local time.

While Australia believe they have a strong case for 2022, my sneaky feeling is Qatar will stun the world by winning the right to host the tournament that year.

Will This Finally Be Riedl's Time?

Alfred Riedl (right) conducting Indonesia training at Stadium Bung Karno. (Picture taken from AFF Suzuki Cup official website)
He has worked miracles wherever he has gone in Southeast Asia. Just ask the Vietnamese and Laotians. Both countries have nothing but praise for him for his work done in these two countries.

Such is the impact made that the locals in Vietnam were willing to offer their kidneys when the Austrian veteran coach was diagnosed with kidney failure earlier in the past decade.

While present Vietnam head coach Henrique Caslito was the toast of the town two years ago when he led them to their first ever international title, it was Riedl who laid the foundations for the success of the present team.

He has had three stints with Vietnam, leading them to the then-Tiger Cup runners-up as hosts in 1998 and steering them into the last eight of the AFC Asian Cup finals in 2007.

Then in the 2009 Southeast Asian Games hosted by Laos, he led the host nation to unprecedent new territory as they exceeded expectations by reaching the last four of the football tournament. Many from that class now form the core of the present Laotian national team playing in the ongoing Suzuki Cup.

Unlike the Indochinese states, this archipalego nation will be a tougher nut to crack. Ivan Kolev came close. Peter Withe divided Indonesia with his coaching style. Benny Dolo could not get the best out of the talent available. Ditto the other local and foreign coaches that have come and gone in the elusive chase of regional supremacy.

On paper, the likes of Uruguayan-born Christian Gonzalez, Bambang Pangmukas, Muhd Riduan and company represent some of the best talents the fourth most populous nation in the world has produced in the international scene. Getting the best out of the them has been another story with their mecurial form.

Where others have failed, now it is Riedl's turn to make what is seemingly impossible into gold. That means the championship trophy. While honours have remained elusive for the genial Austrian in the region so far, his track record in turning minnows into contenders is not to be overlooked.

Indonesia have more talent in abundance, to the point of being able to axe several because of ill-discipline, than Laos presently and Vietnam then pre-1998. The pressure is on this man to deliver, but having faced tougher opponents on the pitch and in life, he is ready and capable of bringing some joy at last to the football-mad nation.

The Indonesians' 5-1 opening Group A victory over Malaysia on Wednesday evening signalled the first steps forward.

AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals Matchday 1

Group A in Jakarta, Indonesia

Thailand 2 Laos 2
Indonesia 5 Malaysia 1

Eye-popping results were the order of the day in the opening action of the eighth edition of the biennial regional tournament.

The first game of the finals saw underdogs Laos taking the lead twice before Thai forward Sarayut Chaikamdee, or more popularly known as 'Joe Five Yards', snatched a point from an embarassing defeat with a last-gasp equaliser.

Later, the co-hosts, coached by Austrian Alfred Riedl, signalled their intentions with a 5-1 thumping over their injury-hit opponents.

A determined Indonesia, a fatigued Thailand, a ravaged Malaysia and party poppers Laos. Group A promises to be more intriguing in the days ahead.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2011 - 2015: Critical Years for S.League

So much flak flared up again about the S.League following the mass brawl at Jalan Besar Stadium between players and officials from Young Lions and Beijing Guoan Talent that led to the abandonment of the match with less than a few minutes remaining at 1-1.  

That, together with dwindling attendances and decreasing sponsorship money pumped into Singaporean clubs, showed how despised the S.League has been to the general populace.

It is not entirely the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) fault that the league has seen a decrease in interest.

No, it is not the introduction of foreign teams that has caused this too. Neither is the so-called decreasing standards. Yes, the standard of play is generally stale but there have been some nail-biters and quality matches as well.

Winning Singaporeans back and make them flock to the local neighbourhood stadiums, with all the distractions of Orchard Road, Mohammed Sultan Road and City Hall and the well-designed and built shopping complexes popping up all over Singapore, will remain a massive challenge for S.League, FAS President Zainuddin Nordin and Secretary-general Winston Lee.

The novelty of a Singapore league wore off after the first few years of its establishment in 1996.

The fateful announcement of Singapore's withdrawal from the Malaysia Cup in early 1995 ensured that a generation of football fans, including this writer, would grow up having foreign football as its staple of football diet. Any surprises that English football is so popular here, to the amusement from national coach Radjoko Avramovic to the league's foreign players?

Now with no Malaysia Cup stars from the class of 94 playing, there is nothing for these old-timers to look at and harp on their former heroes in action on the pitch. A generation of football supporters has also long been lost in this process.

The concept of grassroots rivalry, unfortunately, has never fully blossomed, save for Tampines Rovers, who have a core group of vocal and quiet fans supporting the team from their neighbourhood. Apart from uniformed groups Singapore Armed Forces and Home United and developmental team Young Lions, perhaps the other local football teams can do more in tapping on the constituency support?

The league itself have successful businessmen who are thriving elsewhere. But even they are finding the S.League the hardest nut to crack in their business decision making. Kwek Leng Joo, as the league's first chairman who laid its early foundations, and Teo Hock Seng, Tampines chairman, have been there. But even the latter's support is dwindling due to various disappointments.

This league is now at a crucial point, where it is nowhere close to being shut down, but not rising up any further. It lacks the colour and spark to carry it in a positive light. Singaporeans' perceived ignorance of Asian football is not helping matters as regional rivalry in Southeast Asia still comes first.

To kill the S.League right there and right now will effectively mean at least 80 per cent of the jobs in this industry will have to be scrapped. The better-educated ones can find other jobs elsewhere, but how about those who seek this path for honest living but now have nothing to look forward to? Perhaps the Singapore Police Force Commissioner can anticipate in a rise in statistics for criminal offences if this happens.

If there is no S.League, where will the likes of K. Vikraman and Jonathan Xu Weihua go? Will Richard Bok Kok Chuan, Mike Wong Mun Heng, Nasarudin Jalil and A Shasi Kumar have new head coaching jobs elsewhere in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam or Thailand, if they are not offered them by FAS? Or do they have to switch to other lines, as former players, coaches, referees and officials have been doing in recent years?

Without the S.League, will these people mentioned be even familiar to a few faces if at all? There will be no talk of a steady stream of footballers becoming coaches, whether developmental or competitive, and administrators when they hang up their boots and give back to football.

To scrap the only (perhaps so-called, in our eyes) fully professional sports league is also sending a signal that sports is not a viable career option in this tiny island. Singaporean Chinese parents may feel vindicated by this. But how about their Malay and Indian counterparts, especially the former? Other national sports associations will be discouraged by the S.League's closure and may not think of doing something similar, or remain content to keep their elite leagues semi-professional at best.

Thus the next five seasons will be very critical for the S.League authorities. It is not only about mere dollars and cents. They need to be fully cooperative with the clubs, who have generally been trying despite their limited resources.

Smart decisions have to be made if this league and the local clubs are to survive beyond just two decades. Certain present sponsorships may need to be reconsidered. Not all are that helpful, in fact, one has ensured FAS are under its mercy.

Singaporeans are an increasingly sophisticated and harder-to-please, but as the Youth Olympic Games football tournament suggests, there is a way one can tap on that support, only if they think out of the box.

Tap on the present young generation of fans who can form the new supporters of tomorrow. They are too young and may not know anything about the Malaysia Cup. They only know the likes of Shahril Ishaks and Aleksandar Durics as their present Singapore football heroes, not the Fandi Ahmads and V Sundramoorthys. They have given their best support and convinced the older Singaporeans to rally the Cubs in the recent YOG.

By the end of 2015, if there is some improvement, statistically and asthestically, there is still hope for the S.League, for its imperfections that will remain for some time.

Otherwise, FAS may need to consider rejoining the Malaysia Cup for short-term gains once more and appease the unhappy 5 million coaches.

Jalan Besar "Fightmania"

Maybe the organisers of Unlimited Martial Combat can consider Jalan Besar Stadium as an alternative venue after Beijing Guoan Talent and Young Lions dished out a fight at different parts of the pitch perhaps even martial arts exponents and kungfu enthusiasts can only dream of.

Perhaps the feeder team from the defending Chinese Super League side could have been going on some gamesmanship. Perhaps they had been unkindly provoked on and off the pitch by the Singaporeans.

It was 1-1 on Tuesday evening at that ground, when referee Zaid Hussein, who is now fast developing a notorious reputation of losing control of games he is in charge of when the heats rises just a little, decided to abandon the game after the fights spiralled into a mass-scale brawl involving both benches and even a few Young Lions fans who were also eager to lay their hands on the young Chinese.

With Zaid around as the man in the centre, it was only a matter of time before a game in his care went totally out of hand. Albirex players could have fought with him. Tampines Rovers fans gave him quite a earful as he scampered and cowered under pressure. Any other team would have been privately baying for his blood.

While Beijing and Young Lions did not keep their tempers in check (more on the Chinese's inability to keep their emotions in control), a stronger referee would have dished out the reds to the players involved in the earlier bouts as a signal that rough play would not be tolerated and toughly dealt with.

It was not the first time Beijing had been involved in such scuffles, but the referees knew how to keep them and the other team in check. Some netizens were speculating about the Chinese team walking out like the previous predecessors, when the anti-Beijing Guoan sentiment among local football fans finally spilled over.

All these nastiness could have been prevented if the man in the middle knew how to control things. Even if it meant more red cards and eventual abandonment still because the teams did not want to comply. But a strong signal would have been sent.

Feted FIFA World Cup referee Shamsul Maidin was too happy rising up the ranks in the AFC/ FIFA calendar to groom strong future referees. Another FIFA World Cup linesman K. Viswanathan found the hot seat too hot to bear after succeeding Shamsul as Football Association of Singapore head of referees department.

Now the newly-minted man at the helm, Abdul Razak, has plenty of work to do. Clubs, players and officials were unimpressed by the recent declining refereeing standards in Singapore, especially in the S.League. And they were not optimistic things were going to improve overnight.

Tuesday's end-of-game fightfest only showed the incompetence of the elite referees Singapore football has at this moment. Zaid is fast entering into this author's referee blacklist -  only K. Kalimuthu has been on my black book so far.

Perhaps it is time for Winston Lee and Razak to have a look at the education of referees and wonder why more and more promising referees are leaving the scene.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sengkang (United4United) Fans - That's The Way to Go! :)

These Sengkang fans are showing just how support ought to be done. It might still be a novelty at Singapore football grounds, but their localised Manchester United cheers are a breath of fresh air.

They almost sound as though you are watching a game at Old Trafford in Manchester or Turf Moor in Burnley. But hey, it beats the other wacko stuff the other local S.League fan clubs are chruning up match day after match day and as they were singing last night at Choa Chu Kang Stadium "just like a library". (Parents, if you are reading this, no harm trying a night's revision with the kids at the stadium.)

And more. Drumming without a proper tune (Makes you wonder whether the drums instructor who teaches these drummers is not that good or the drummers are simply incompetent in this area.), cheering without a common purpose, no charisma... The list goes on and on. They are also part of the reason why people are not enjoying the match-day experience.

Hussain Razzak, as passionate as he was in supporting Woodlands Wellington through thick and thin, could never get others to cheer beyond his own fan group which at its peak numbered at around 200. He could not move the entire Woodlands stadium to follow in their over-the-top fan culture.

Thus having him to spearhead the so-called tussle in "SOS Woodlands" seems slightly dubious. The writer personally hopes this devout Wolverhampton Wanderers and Woodlands supporter can rise up higher and rally at least 5,000 Singaporeans to support this cause, but he has his doubts whether even 50 will be there for him and R. Vengadasalam this time.

Young Lions ardent fan and newly-appointed Home United fan club chairman Daniel Lau, 17, is renowned for his zealous support for all things Singapore football. Such passion has made him noticed by the local football fraternity and media alike.

During the recent Youth Olympic Games, such is the Nanyang Polytechnic student's strong faith in the national Under-15 side that he bought all the tickets from the first group game to the final day. He would sacrifice hours making posters and banners, such as one of "The Spirit of Sivalingam (the late coach who would have remained in charge were he still alive)".

Such passion should be lauded. But he could not inspire. Other Singaporeans from all walks of life flocked to the stadiums because of the Cubs' feats during the Games.

They knew how to sing, cheer and jeer when they needed to. Ask the Singaporean Liverpool fans who were willing to dish out the dough to sing their hearts out for the Reds in 2009 at Kallang. Even if Lau was not present, they would still have turned up in force to support Lightfoot, Koh, Hanafi, Dukhilan and company.

"We Want Goal!" has a lot more meaning than "Defence! Defence!" (The Young Lions fan club think they are capable of succeeding V. Sundramoorthy as co-coaches of the team and are cheering in the wrong sport.)

In fact, when things did not go their way, these fans could turn so abusive, they even cheesed off other fans present at the stands who just merely wanted to enjoy the game.

Thus, kudos to these United4United fans for managing what many other local fan clubs have utterly failed to do - keep the SAFFC fans silent for 75% of the game. Even SAFFC coach Richard Bok praised them for their attitude and passion in their cheers.

If these guys could do it, then perhaps the other fan clubs of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspurs and Newcastle United could adopt a local Singapore club for a short-term basis and show the original fan club members how supporting a football side, local or foreign, ought to be done. Provided if they are keen to do so.

Meanwhile, keep up the positive work, United4United fans! Thumbs up!

Woodlands Wellington Boardroom Showdown Coming?

The first slavo is fired!

Things could not get any spicier at Woodlands Stadium at this moment. As Woodlands Wellington slumped to their fifth consecutive loss in the 2-1 home loss to title challengers Home United on Tuesday, one man decided enough was enough.

Hussain Razzak (above), former head of the Woodlands fan club, ex-Sembawang Rangers fan, brother of respected former Balestier Khalsa coach Abdul Karim, in-law of Vengadasalam Rayyan a.k.a Vengaman, went on a one-man march around the stadium at half-time, voicing his displeasure at the running of the club under present chairman Jayadev Unnithan.

He slammed the Rams for being reduced to cronyism, for lacking ambition and passion to bring the club back to its former glory and colourful days, for the virtual non-existant support of the home team and for eventually digging its own demise as a professional football club.

He claimed to have made sacrifices for the club as the head of the die-hards, by creating posters, by purchasing Woodlands jerseys to be "exported" to places as far as England, New Zealand and Australia, sweating blood and tears for the club he loved following the demise of former S.League club Sembawang Rangers after 2003 at Venga's request.

He also boasted media commentators for praising him for making the efforts to raise the atmosphere without asking for a single cent for his efforts and accused the other fan clubs for cheering for the sake of cash and free food.

He derided the present management for their stinginess and driving fans away from supporting their beloved neighbourhood club. He lambasted the first team and coaching staff for lacking the passion, commitment and desire to produce results as they slid to yet another defeat in his presence.

He also accused the staff for lacking commitment, leaving him to do so much as though he was a full-time employee at the club. (He has a full time job at SMRT.)

Beyond the tirading facade of this passionate football fan, Venga seemed to be working very hard behind-the-scenes to grab control of the northern-based club which, formerly known as Wellington FC before the S.League, he steered it to be among the founding eight clubs when Singapore's professional football league kicked off in 1996. 

According to Thursday's report on the Straits Times, Venga departed from the Rams after a dispute with former chairman Francis Gomez and became a peripheral figure at Tampines Rovers under Teo Hock Seng.

Colourful in personality and quotes, he ought to be the ideal man to mount a challenge for control in Woodlands Wellington. He has claimed to have sponsors to provide the club with some financial muscle, although this has yet to be verified.

As Hussain also mentioned, Venga was the man who first unleashed the likes of Itimi Dickson, John Wilkinson and Mazreswan Masturi before they were known to the nation as Singapore internationals.

Unfortunately, Venga is yesterday's man as far as modern football in Singapore is concerned. Now it takes more than just colour and charisma to be respected and obeyed at any professional football set-up in Singapore.

From the chairman to the officials, whatever the financial and physical constraints, Singapore clubs have taken every step possible to be as professional in their work approach off-the-pitch as they could be.

As for the coaches, there is an increasing number of local coaches awaiting employment somewhere with their coaching qualifications, thanks to the S.League for producing them as players first.

They are more aware of modern tactical trends and more methodical and thorough in their training and match preparations, closing the gap in coaching standards between Singapore and the best of Asia (Japan, South Korea and Australia).

Discredited, lamblasted from within and without, Venga is a man without a voice. Even if he makes a dramatic S.League return as new chairman of Woodlands Wellington, can he tolerate delegating stuff to other more competent administrators?

Can he also respect the opinion of present head coach A. Shasi Kumar in terms of team selection and player purchases? Can he persuade the increasingly more pragmatic Singaporean football fans to come down to Woodlands Stadium on his charisma alone?

Will the players and other coaches even bother respecting him, for he has no qualified successes to really speak of?

Most importantly, can the financial backing he claims to have last? With all the local clubs always looking out for financial resources and managing their balance books, even successful businessmen-cum-club chairmen John Yap and Teo are prudent in their financial backing to Gombak United and Tampines respectively. Even Gomez, Tang Weng Fei and Patrick Ang can attest to this.

Unlike the above-mentioned gentlemen, Venga does not have any clout or influence in the highly competitive and successful financial world in Singapore. In any sense, is his bid for control even platable.

Little wonder Jayadev has laughed this off as "such a trivial matter". However, wounded prides can make men like Hussain and Venga earn sympathy points and swing support, however temporary, in their favour.

If the grassroots leader chooses not to open up and state his vision and dreams for the club, if any, he is going to be as easily discredited as Hussain and Venga - for allowing a sinking ship to sink without any explanation or accountability.

Since he is the one who knows what exactly has been going on, he needs to come clean and explain why Hussain was asked to leave Woodlands Wellington as the fan club chairman, why he and the present management refused the offer Venga allegedly made in June and other prickly situations in the wooden spoonists off the pitch.

What about this one-man show? When former Ram and present general manager Jeykanth Jeyapal asked Hussain why the latter did not response to his three separate phone calls following the alleged dismissal, Hussain ducked the question and went on about his past sacrifices to the club.


Ladies and gentlemen, let's sit back and enjoy the WWF (Woodlands Wellington Festival) boardroom smackdown between...

Jayadev Unnithan PBM/ Jeykanth Jeyapal  v Vengadasalam Rayyan/ Hussain Razzak...

Enjoy! :P

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kadir Yahaya - The Man to Succeed Avramovic

Kadir Yahaya has done such a sterling job with the Singapore national Under-15 team in the recently-concluded Youth Olympic Games (YOG) and he should stay to develop these Cubs into Lions in the longer term.

The YOG is the second major international tournament the former national defender has handled. The first was the AFC Under-16 Championship finals which the Lion City hosted and the host team handled no less by Kadir himself.

That cohort comprised of several players who are now featuring in the senior S.League with Young Lions. They included skipper Hariss Harun, who is now a permanent fixture in the senior squad set-up, goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, defender Afiq Yunos and winger Gabriel Quak Jun Yi.

Grouped against continental powerhouses Japan and South Korea, as well as Nepal, these Cubs showed they were no pushovers in the finals even though they crashed out after the first round.

They held South Korea level 1-1 at one point until the oppositions' superior technique showed to win 3-1. Then the result of the tournament against eventual champions Japan.

One goal down and one boy less, the plucky Singaporeans equalised from the spot late in the game to earn not just a point, but also the respect of the Japanese team.

The real credit has to be given to Kadir for ensuring that this result is even remotely possible in the first place. With budget constraints affecting overseas tour preparations for the team then, Kadir utilised his contacts to search high and deep for videos of the opponents they were up against before that tournament.

His analytical abilities and coaching style were also instrumental. He knew that Singaporeans would not be playing against the likes of Japan, South Korea and Australia on a very regular basis, thus they would need to know how to get the best of these encounters beyond the result when it came.

What has happened to that group since? While several have faded away, the likes of Hariss, Afiq and Quak have won bronze medals in Southeast Asian Games.

With better financial support and assistance from present technical director Slobodan Pavkovic in 2010, the Cubs were able to go on a tour to England, the home of football, to play friendly games against opponents bigger, stronger and technically more proficient.

Losing in friendly matches were worth it as they went on to clinch the coveted bronze medal after an emotionally roller-coaster campaign.

In between, he has also been the other half of a successful tactical partnership with Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad as the assistant coach of Indonesian Super League side Pelita Jaya.

Tactically astute, strategically aware and knowledgable, the man who provided the assist for the Lions' first major international trophy in 1998 should be given the chance to develop these Singaporeans further.

To do that, Football Association of Singapore do need to know they have an up-and-rising competitive coach who can deliver expectations. If Winston Lee, P Sivakumar and company are smart enough, they should promote Kadir to be national assistant coach to Radjoko Avramovic.

Curiously, Avramovic is without an official assistant for the last three years since the departure of Fandi in 2006. The main sidekick has been fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko since.

If not Kadir, then who?

Youth Olympics Football - Future B, C and Beyond Graded Football Finals in Olympics, and World Cup??

The inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Singapore has ended after 12 days of intensive competition. For football, it lasted 13 days as the participating teams kicked off earlier at Jalan Besar.

While the other sports had traditional powerhouses showing their future talents in the various disciplines, football stood out as an anomaly.

Mention Haiti, Vanuatu, Equatorial Guinea and even hosts Singapore to the global powers-that-be, and many will wonder what these football minnows are even bothering to appear in a global showpiece. Never mind the Olympics and World Cup. Youth Olympic Games football finals for them?

It did happen, courtesy of the ingenious thinking of the world football governing body FIFA, or possibly their creative secretary general Joseph Sepp Blatter. Even the format of the football competitions is very divergent from the usual norm of qualifiers, or even in the 2009 Asian Youth Games, a test multi-sport event for the YOG.

Just a recap for those who have little or no idea about what went on in the football segment last year, the major football powers of the continent, save for Japan and Australia, sent their brightest 14-year-old players to compete for supremacy at this level.

The Singapore Cubs tried, but the other teams that reached the eight-team group stage finals proved stronger and technically more competent. An upward curve for the hosts who crashed out propping their pool.

Eventually, it was the Koreas - North and South - who reached the final, with the wealthier boys winning gold.

Fast forward to 2010 YOG. Only six teams each in boys' and girls' football events can participate, with each representing their continent.

As hosts, Singapore fielded their boys' team, virtually the same crop that featured in the Asian Youth Games, representing Asia.

Completing the line-up in the boys' category are Montenegro (Europe), Vanuatu (Oceania), Haiti (North America, supposed to be Cuba but they pulled weeks before the tournament kicked off), Bolivia (South America) and Zimbabwe (Africa, for the older readers the country that former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelar represented).

Iran (Asia), Turkey (Europe), Trinidad and Tobago (North America) and Chile (South America) are well-known established football nations who have appeared in the World Cup this century - but only for the males. Their girls were the ones playing YOG football in Singapore instead.

Blatter must have a pretty cute brain, picking not one, but two Guineas to participate with them - Papua New Guinea (Oceania) and Equatorial Guinea (Africa).

Considering the make-up of the teams in the respective events, one cannot help but wonder whether there is some kind of football standard categorisation and ranking chart hidden somewhere in the FIFA headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Apart from Montenegro qualifying from a rather haphazardly organised UEFA Boys qualifying tournament (please enlighten me on this further if anyone has a better idea), the rest were invited to play, when conventional thinking would have been them watching the proceedings miles away on their television sets after failing to qualify - again - save for the hosts.

As much as Blatter and FIFA may want to give these football minnows exposure to the global television audience (not as far reaching as the FIFA World Cup held earlier this year in South Africa), the matches only showed up differing football standards of the continents.

The Bolivian boys came to the Lion City, played four, won four, smashed Haiti twice - 9-0 in the group stage and 5-0 in the final despite playing more than one half a boy less. Their football brains and techniques are streets apart from their rivals and thoroughly deserving of the gold.

And to think the gold medalists are one of the weakest teams in the continent. Ditto the Chilean girls.

Now that this precedent has been set, both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are finding themselves in quite a quagmire. IOC President Jacques Rogge may point a finger at Blatter in private, but Blatter may end up having the last laugh - with unintended consequences.

When the YOG circus moves to Nanjing, China in 2014, will FIFA dare to do the same thing, or resort to some qualifying system? The final solution, whatever it is, will be far from trivial.

Unlike Singapore, which beyond Southeast Asia is a relative minnow in football, China is a half-decent football nation. While it is ok to invite Bolivia to defend their gold for themselves and South America, will Luxembourg (Europe), Malawi (Africa), St Kitts and Nevis (North America) and Samoa (Oceania) be platable to IOC and the Chinese audience in its retained tournament format from Singapore?

Never the YOG. Imagine if one day a not-so-established sporting nation, say Mongolia, get to host the World Cup. As hosts, they automatically qualify. To protect the competitive integrity of the tournament, the qualification rounds continue and the best teams arrive to grand facilities in Ulaan Battar and some other Mongolian cities.

How will FIFA react if (apologies to the Mongolian readers) the following happens in Mongolia's group also involving England, Brazil and United States of America and the scores read... Mongolia 0 England 8, Mongolia 1 Brazil 14, Mongolia 1 USA 3? Your answer is as good as mine.

Rogge has the simple solution to throwing football out of the Olympic events on a whim, however heavy the consequences of such a decision will be. How about Blatter and succeeding FIFA bosses though?

Looks like Blatter and his men should seek Asian Football Confederation President Mohammad Bin Hammam for advice. After all, the latter has exactly done that categorisation for the nations in the continent.

Apart from the main tier AFC Asian Cup (countries) and AFC Champions League (clubs), there are lower-level competitions such as the AFC Cup and AFC President's Cup (for clubs) and the AFC Challenge Cup (for third-tier developing football nations) to accommodate the rest and keep all the tournaments competitive without despairing and lopsided results.

In fact, the AFC Challenge Cup have allowed teams such as India to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup finals on the back door. Who knows, perhaps Hammam's ideas for Asia could help Blatter and even Rogge do likewise!

If track and field, swimming and selected other sports have classification matches and even B Finals, why don't football follow the trend and do likewise?

It is going to be very humourous. Imagine if Singapore qualify for the main Olympics football tournament - the 16-team C finals (akin to the third division in a domestic league) - in 2016. Sure our Young Lions will still get to take part in Brazil, but will not get a sniff of samba football in competitive play - but against say Jamaica, Romania and Nigeria.

One YOG experiment by FIFA and IOC. Many dilemmas ahead. Definitely worth playing the options around during these lull years ahead.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Youth Olympic Games Football Tournament Final Results

South Americans rule the roost in the boys' and girls' football by sweeping gold in both events. Congratulations to the Chilean girls and Bolivian boys for their successful conquests at Jalan Besar!

As the flame is doused later tonight (Singapore time) at Marina Bay in the conclusion of the first Youth Olympic Games held in Singapore, here are the scores in the playoffs and final placings for the participating teams.

Girls Football


Turkey 2 Chile 3
Equatorial Guinea 4 Iran 1

5th/6th place playoff

Trinidad and Tobago 0 Papua New Guinea 0 (Trinidad win 4-2 on penalties.)

3rd/4th place playoff

Turkey 3 Iran 0


Chile 1 Equatorial Guinea 1 (Chile triumph 5-3 in penalty shootout.)

Final Standings

Gold: Chile
Silver: Equatorial Guniea
Bronze: Turkey
4th: Iran
5th: Trinidad and Tobago
6th: Papua New Guinea

Boys Football


Bolivia 3 Montenegro 1
Singapore 0 Haiti 2

5th/6th Classification playoff

Vanuatu 2 Zimbabwe 0

3rd/4th place playoff

Singapore 4 Montenegro 1


Bolivia 5 Haiti 0

Final standings

Gold: Bolivia
Silver: Haiti
Bronze: Singapore
4th: Montenegro
5th: Vanuatu
6th: Zimbabwe