Saturday, February 28, 2015

3 On/3 Off: African Cup of Nations

A week after the Asian Cup concluded the African Cup of Nations wrapped up too.

I watched, I cared, so why didn't I write about it until now, nearly a month later?

Hey look it's an evasion of a question! On with the subjective judgements!

ON: Ivory Coast's Golden Generation
Arguably the greatest African nation of the past decade, the Ivorians boast a constellation of European club stars, a wealth of continental and global attention and acclaim and now, finally a major trophy. 23 Years after their first trophy, they've finally got another Nations' Cup title, and despite some middling, sleep-walking draws en route to the trophy they got there in the end. And though the biggest legend of the country could only watch from afar, his reaction pretty much says it all.
OFF: Ghana's Golden Generation
I'm pretty unrepentant about loving the Black Stars. It's been 11 years for me supporting the squad even through the seemingly inevitable Grudge Matches with the USA. But the team still has little to show for their decade of success other than a couple of youth trophies, and an increasing funk around Penalty Kicks. (Give them this though: Andre Ayew is the boss)

ON: Equatorial Guinea's Team
Nzalang Nacional was bounced unceremoniously from qualification for fielding an ineligible player. Even without that they struggled against their "ousters" Mauritania, who in turn got whipped by Uganda, who in turn came up short in the group stage. The backdoor qualification, taking over for a concerned Moroccan FA, didn't bode well either. But when it came down to it, they played well, qualified for the second round and knocked out Tunisia (thanks to some suspecting referring, but still). With four players under 23 trying to break into the first squads of La Liga's best, they're well positioned for the future as well.
OFF: Equatorial Guinea's Everybody Else
Sure it was short notice, a tournament cobbled together on the quick and the cheap. But the facilities reported by journalists and teams alike were slipshod and poor. Rumors of biased referring dogged the knockout rounds. And the home team's biggest match (a semi-final versus Ghana) devolved into a full scale supporter riot that ended in tear gas from an army helicopter.

The highest drama in football.
ON: Random Chance
Guinea and Mali drew their way through three matches, ending the group stage with the same points, goal difference, and goals scored. So what was the best way to select a winner? How about randomly drawing a name from a hat! In future random chance can also be used to determine overlong penalty kicks (which from Ghana's point of view, might actually be a better chance)
OFF: Cameroon's Best Efforts
Once upon a time Cameroon was the best squad in Africa. Roger Milla was king and when people thought of African football, they thought of the Indomitable Lions. And though the team still has the infrastructure and resources to consistently contend for continental trophies, the lackluster, sleep-walking performances both in Equitorial Guinea and more aggravatingly at last summer's world cup make the team look lackluster at best.

Monday, February 23, 2015

3 On/3 Off: Asian Cup Edition

So, I was back on schedule, and then...yeah.

We hereby return to our summaries and catch-up of notable (and not-so notable) tournaments starting with the first federation cup of the new cycle: the AFC Asian Cup

On: Tim Cahill (Soccer Legend)
Tim Cahill is to Australlian soccer what Bronco Nagurski is to American football.

That is all.

Off: Australian Fans (Geopolitical Novices)
I'm all for hospitality, but Australian fans took it to a new level expressing their affection for North Korea. The Red Robot wasn't too likely to have a lot of fans in the stands, but that's as much for it's systemic disadvantaging of citizens as it is due to the country's small population. Cheer how you want to Aussies...but just remember that one man's satire is a nut job despot's eternal devotion.

On: South Korea
The Taeguk Warriors are certainly disappointed to have been forced to settle for a fourth silver medal since their last trophy in 1960. (Their four bronzes over the same time don't help either). But set aside the final standings and you can see a dominant squad that only trailed for 45 minutes (the second half of the final) and still managed a stunning equalizer in stoppage time. The resilient South Koreans are certainly worthy of a trophy, and I have every confidence they'll be gunning for one sooner rather than later.
Off: Japan
Meanwhile, Korea's primary rival, Japan's Blue Samurai, were underwhelming, topping a middling Group D before being on the back foot for 74 minutes against the United Arab Emirates en route to their eventual ouster in the quarterfinals. Combine this lackluster showing with the fuzzy and unfocused runs in Brazil both last summer and the year before (at the Confederations' Cup) and Japan doesn't look terribly well prepared for the future.

On: Asia's "Perceived" Third Tier (Uzbekistan/UAE/China/Iraq)
Recent form suggested that China and Iraq had no shot at the second round and that the UAE and Uzbekistan were too unknown to thrive in a bigger tournament. At the end of the tournament Iraq and the UAE finished 3rd & 4th, while China and Uzbekistan topped a group featuring more recent World Cup qualifiers (North Korea/Saudi Arabia).

Off: Asia's "Perceived" Second Tier (Saudi Arabia/Oman/Jordan/Qatar)
The Saudi's remain Asia's most baffling squad, with a fine pedigree and minimal results. The other gulf states with rising standards and results (Oman, Jordan and Qatar)looked totally underwhelming en route to their own early exits. And while none conceded as many goals as debutants Palestine, their standards aren't to compete against's to compete against the other top teams in Asia.