Monday, January 31, 2011

January 2011: 3 On/3 Off

We'll try and set this up so that each month we review the most important information about world football gleaned from matches, competitions and news. (Hopefully there's always something to talk about.) And to do that, we'll think about three heroes subbed onto the pitch, and three out of form slugs heading for the bench with their heads hanging low.
3 Coming On:

Japan in General and Kaisuke Honda in particular:
Winning the Asian Cup is a little like being the greatest best baseball team in triple A. You've got a trophy and god knows you deserve it...but everyone knows in their heart of hearts that it might not be that way if you had to play a big-time, high-profile squad of superstars in the making.
Still, the blue samurai deserve to be congratulated. And unlike the Albuquerque Isotopes, they will get to play some high-profile superstars this summer when they head down to the Copa America to try their luck against Brazil and Argentina. Win that and I'll genuflect and beg forgiveness...until then, I'll just keep clapping politely
Except for Kaisuke Honda. After a sterling World Cup he won man of the tournament honors in Qatar and set the stage for his continued rise to the title of Asia's top footballer. Sniggering over his relationship to the car factory needs to stop...he looks like he's for real.

Feeling Good in Qatar
The Asian Cup was chock full of good stories. The hosts overcame their minnow-ish ranking and made a strong showing against eventual champions Japan. The Uzbeks were a surprise entry into the semi-finals (except not to me...because I predicted it...because I'm AWESOME!). And for a brief period of time the Australians were able to distract their countrymen from surging flood waters with some stellar football and a near miss in the final match. Kudos Asia, Kudos!

Spain...the system everyone wants a part of
Just in case the fawning adoration of the World Cup winners wasn't enough, FIFA pointed out the supremacy of Spanish Football at their annual awards ceremonies in Zurich. And while the Spaniards didn't walk away with any major individual hardware...their system and league gave a full throated power yell of domination to anyone who still thought Spain's best contribution to recent world history was tapas.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona's wunderkind) won the Ballon d'Or. Jose Mourinho (Mr. Jump on the Bandwagon/Real Madrid) won the coach of the year. And the Fifa Pro World XI features 8 La Liga representatives and 6 Spanish Nationals. Investing in all that talented football may have diverted funds from other areas like...say...the crippling Iberian debt crisis...but hey! SHINY TROPHIES!! (Suck on that England)

3 Heading off

Saudi Arabia: The Riyadh Zoo
Here in America we have a long and storied history of teams that are quite simply CRAZY. The Bronx Zoo of the New York Yankees in the 1970s, The Portland Jail Blazers from the turn of the millenia, The Cincinatti Bengals of...well...pretty much forever. But no matter what your preferred local sport, few crazy ass teams can compete with the insanity of Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup.
Lose your first game (2:1 to Syria), that's bad...but maybe not: fire the coach this second bad. Still, the Saudi's made their choice and went in confident against Jordan...where they lost again (1:0). It's hard to fire a coach after one match, so instead King Abdullah fired federation president (Prince Sultan Bin Fahd) and replaced him with Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal. Surely, after cleaning house of these losers, a meaningless game against a half-strength already progressed Japan would give them the chance to lick their wounds, learn their lessons. Or...lose 5:0 and lead to the sacking of their second coach in three matches. (Cue the slow sarcastic clap)

A Break-away Confederation?
I listen regularly to the BBC's World Football podcast (and if you're reading this website hoping for news I suggest you look there instead). Last week the Beeb broke the story of scuttlebutt surrounding a new Confederation that could be created by merging Oceania with East Asia. The move makes sense for a few people. First, Australia could stop pretending to be Asian. Second, Japan and South Korea could have lovely holidays in New Caldonia. Finally, China could bid for the World Cup in 2026 and really stick it to the Qatari federation and AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam.
But once you dig a little deeper this is a terrible plan. Oceania gets nothing but a pack of guaranteed ass-kickings in Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney. The whole scheme completely undermines FIFA authority and sets up more snide bickering between bureaucrats (leading to more back stage wheeling and dealing rather than less). North America would likely get bumped to one-side AGAIN in the continental rotation order (and with Europe likely to throw a tantrum for 2030, our next shot would be 2034...22 years after the Mayan apocolypse!). Nice try East Asia (and Australia)...but no...just no.

Qatar's Crickets
One little bone to pick with Qatar after the AFC Cup...seriously? you broke the bank to win the World Cup and you the only two full houses you can draw are for the home team versus Japan...and the final? I've seen bigger houses for operas in Butte! I've met more dedicated footie fans in remote hillside villages of India! Come on us why you won it. (Unless it's through corruption in which case please give no sign).

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