Saturday, January 17, 2015

Catching up on the Cups: Southeast Asian Cup

When you have a job it's easy to lose track of the fun things in life: like minor international soccer tournaments.
So, as we near the end of the actual Asian Cup we take a look backwards at the smaller, less prestigious, but far more fun Southeast Asian Cup, also known as the ASEAN Football Federation Cup, or the AFF Cup, or the Suzuki AFF Cup, because why not.
Everything's Coming Up Kiatsuk!!

ON: Kiatsuk Senamuang (Coach of Thailand)
The former War Elephants striker returned to the team as a youth level coach and after a great run of form (including gold medals in two youth tournaments) repeated the feat when his youth players graduated to the national team. He's the first person to win the Suzuki Cup as both a player and manager. So basically, he's golden until Thailand fails to qualify for the World Cup.
OFF: Clarity of fan/political allegiance in Thailand
As the proud owner of a Bangkok knockoff Thai National Team jersey, I have to say that I was swiftly pressured into identifying the color that noticed my political allegiance. Yellow for the monarchy, red for the reformers or blue for...well...farang tourists who didn't want to piss anyone off. But with their most recent trophy won in red and dedicated to the ailing king, it's hard to tell what anybody's rooting for in the Thai stands (other than victory/peace).

ON: Mohd Safiq Rahim
Gratuitous Malaysian Bowling plug
While Malaysia was unlucky again to be waylaid in their pursuit of futbol greatness. The country has a strong hunger for glory, but little to show for it. Their 2010 Suzuki Cup win was their first trophy in 21 years, and they've got just 5 points in the last 3 World Cup qualifying campaigns. But that's nothing to do with Safiq Rahim, who remains absolutley deadly from the penalty spot netting four of his Golden Boot winning 6 goals. And if that weren't enough, he's married to one of Malaysia's best known female bowlers Zandra Aziela. (Take that Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm!)
OFF: Baby Face Laotian Keepers 
Living in a part of the world with a large Laotian diaspora, I keep hoping that Thim Xad will pick it up. But that's hard to do when they field a pair of goalies with 5 caps to their names. Perhaps Thailand built for their future by trying so many young talents out, but manager Dave Booth (of Grimsby Town fame) may actually have set back the process of Seng Athit Somvang (23) and  Soukthavy Soundala (19) after that duo yielded 12 goals in 3 matches. God speed to the newbies.

ON: The Street Rep of South Asian Fans
You name the hooligan-ish behavior and South Asian fans seemed to go in for it. Throw toilet paper at the ref: Check (thanks Singapore). Point lasers into opponents eyes: check (thanks Malaysia). Deliver death threats to opponents: check (thank you Thailand). And just beat mercilessly beating people up: check (thanks again Malaysia...though Malaysian press says thanks go to Vietnam...let's just agree you both acted poorly.)
OFF: The Socceroos
Technically Australia is part of the Southeast Asian Cup, but technically, Australia is much much better than everyone else in the sub-region. So! The Socceroos have chosen to participate only in the East Asian cup, with greater prestige, more money and greater challenge. But we know the truth, they just don't want to face the potential upset of so many consonants being dropped on confused readers of Aussie Newspapers

Monday, January 12, 2015

Catching up the Cups: Caribbean Cup

When you have a job it's easy to lose track of the fun things in life: like minor international soccer tournaments.

So, as the new year kicks off, it seems only right to recognize some of the other tournaments in the world during 2014. Starting out with Caribbean Cup from November
ON: Jamaica's Reggae Boyz
Though they entered the cup ranked lower than everyone but Curacao (and the unranked minnows of Martinique and French Guyana), Jamaica was an all around force on their home turf at Montego Bay. They utterly demolished their rivals in group B and held the stronger Trinidad and Tobago side at bay for 120 minutes, before winning the cup in a shoot out. While Leeds United's Rodolph Austin won the MVP for his midfield work, it's hard to under state the effect of Andre Blake. The MLS top draft pick and former Husky goalkeeper shut down all comers after a 29th minute goal in the first match. That's 316 minutes of shut-out soccer and a job well done.

OFF: Trinidad and Tobago's Soca Warriors
Even thought they weren't the host, the Soca Warriors were the favorite, ranked 21 spots higher than anyone else in the tournament (Antigua/Barbuda according to FIFA), and 64 spots better than their rivals in the finals. And still they lost. They haven't won a trophy since 2001, and haven't made a dent in non-Caribbean Cup tournaments since the trip to Germany in 2006. I'm not sure what it's going to take for T'n'T to get back on the rise, but it's something other than this.

ON: Haiti's Youth Movement:
Les Grenadiers have a horde of talented youngsters (all under 28) populating the midfield, with the strongest players venturing far and wide to find the best careers, including Sony Norde (25) with Mohun Bagan (a dominant squad in India), and Jeff Louis (22) with Standard Liege in Belgium. While they were a little flat against Jamaica, the future's bright for Haiti.
OFF: Cuba's Old Guard
Relations were normalized shortly after the cup finished, but for the sake of Cuban futbol, the Castro's may want to keep beat downs from us Yanquis at arm's length. Since winning the 2012 event (on a scant 5 goals in 5 matches), the Cuban philosophy seems to have been: keep everything exactly the same (hey, it's worked for the economy for the last sixty...oh wait...never mind). Despite a couple of shellackings that saw them bounced from world cup qualifying, los Leones del Caribe keep trotting out 40 year old Odelin Molina in goal, and the similarly 30+ Jaime and Yoel Colome. I'm going to make a heretical request Cuba, get something new.

ON: The Ultimate Underdog--French Guyana
We're fans of underdogs in Montana, and it's hard to find a bigger one than French Guyana. How low is French Guyana in the pecking order of FIFA, you ask? Nowhere. They aren't even a member. How well did they do? 5th place, good enough to get them a crack at the Gold Cup playoff against Honduras in March. And given that Honduras just came back from a World Cup that may seem like along shot, but remember, Honduras played terribly and has generally been awful while dealing with the whole drug-war thing. Here's hoping French Guyana gets in and pulls a shock or two this July.
Jack Warner's "What Me Worry"? Look
OFF: Caribbean Officials
FIFA and "scandal" have slowly become synonymous, but it should be noted that more or less everybody involved in the caribbean football union had to resign over the alleged bribes paid by Mohammed Bin-Hammam in his ill-fated attempt to oust Sepp Blatter. (Included in the list the FA heads for Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and the Bahamas, as part of 27 total warned, fined or reprimanded officials from 18 confederations). Does that have anything to do with the talented athletes? No...but I needed to mock someone, and my default position is to mock anyone linked to FIFA scandals.