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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Youth Olympic Games Football Recap of Group Games

Before the Youth Olympic Games football playoffs kick off this evening, here is a recap of the results in the preliminary group stage played at Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore, so far.

Girls’ Football

Group A (Turkey, Iran, Papua New Guinea)

Turkey 4 Iran 2
Iran 1 Papua New Guinea 0
Turkey 4 Papua New Guinea 0

Final standings

Position Team                    P W D L F A GD Pts

1         Turkey                   2  2 0 0 8 2 +6  6
2         Iran                       2  1 0 1 3 4 -1  3
3         Papua New Guinea    2  0 0 2 0 5 -5  0

Turkey and Iran qualify for the semi-finals, Papua New Guinea go into the 5th/6th placing playoff.

Group B (Chile, Trinidad and Tobago, Equatorial Guinea)

Chile 1 Trinidad and Tobago 0
Equatorial Guinea 3 Trinidad and Tobago 0
Equatorial Guinea 4 Chile 1

Final standings

Position Team                      P W D L F A GD Pts

1          Equatorial Guinea      2  2 0 0 7 1 +6  6
2          Chile                       2  1 0 1 2 4 -2  3
3          Trinidad and Tobago  2  0 0 2 0 4 -4  0

Equatorial Guinea and Chile advance into the last four, Trinidad and Tobago to meet Papua New Guinea for the 5th/6th placing playoff.

Here are the semi-final match-ups to be played this evening.

Turkey v Chile
Equatorial Guinea v Iran

Boys’ Football

Group C (Vanuatu, Bolivia, Haiti)

Bolivia 2 Vanuatu 0
Bolivia 9 Haiti 0
Haiti 2 Vanuatu 1

Final standings

Position Team         P W D L F  A   GD Pts

1           Bolivia       2 2 0 0 11 0 +11  6
2           Haiti         2 1 0 1 2  10  -8  3
3           Vanuatu    2 0 0 2 1   4   -3  0

Bolivia and Haiti progress into the next round, Vanuatu to be content in fighting out for fifth place.

Group D (Singapore (hosts), Zimbabwe, Montenegro)

Singapore 3 Zimbabwe 1
Montenegro 2 Zimbabwe 1
Singapore 3 Montenegro 2

Final standingsPosition Team           P W D L F A GD Pts

1          Singapore     2 2 0 0  6 3 +3   6
2          Montenegro  2 1 0 1  4 4  0   3
3          Zimbabwe    2 0 0 2  2 5 -3  0

Singapore and Montenegro make it into the last four, Zimbabwe to compete with Vanuatu to avoid wooden spoon in the competition.

These semi-final fixtures are to be played tomorrow evening.

Bolivia v Montenegro
Singapore v Haiti

(Source for the results: Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games official website)