Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Trails in 2016: (142-116) One Shining Moment

The following is as close as we really come to an In Memorium tribute for World Cup competitors. After all, while "One Shining Moment" Montages love to end with a a thrilling buzzer beater and confetti explosion, they just don't pop without a crying flutist or two.

Here now are the World Cup corollaries to said sad flautists.

142 'Ilaa Liqaaa, Kuwait 2014 Finish: #132 (-10)
Why they lost: While they were riding high in second place of their group last October, Kuwait's government (read: the royal family) got involved in the FA again. (Exactly what they did is unclear, as every press release and wire report uses vague generalities to excuse the actions.) So, for the third time in 10 years, Kuwait was disqualified from all tournaments and competitions they were entered in. (Oddly almost held on to their runner-up status, a Lebanon draw on the final match day, just barely knocking them back into third).

What we'll miss: The excitement of dream casting the HBO Mini-series/Movie about the Kuwaiti FA offices. Please let this be an excuse to cast Shah Rukh Khan....PLEASE!

141 Long Jay Gay, Bhutan: 2014 Finish #205 (+64)
Why they lost: The Thunder Dragons may have had their heads turned a bit by all the positive press coverage. But that kind of coverage will come your way if you win your first games ever in FIFA qualifications (even if they're won against Sri Lanka). After the BBC, ESPN and all manner of mainstream (and more obscure) media gush over them, it's hard not to be excited.

What we'll miss: Changlimath Stadium. I mean...we'll see it again at the 2046 World Cup when 80% of the Earth is under rising sea levels and all tournaments are hosted by mountain ranges. But who knows how often we'll connect again before that?

140 Lia Suhn Hao-y, Cambodia: 2014 Finish #199 (+59)
Why they lost: The Angkor Warriors have made some serious strides since we last saw them get dummped out of the competition by Laos four years ago. Still, a porous defense ceding 27 goals nearly half of which came in two ties against Syria, is hard to over come.

What we'll miss: The seven way Phenom Penh Derby is practically a league unto itself, but while that particular drama mostly plays out in the streets of the capital, the music of Cambodian-style Pop band Dengue Fever, is for everyone!

139 Jaigen, Chinese Taipei: 2014 Finish #197 (+58)
Why they lost: Taipei, or as it's better known from the labels on your shirts/your kids toys "Taiwan" took another step this round. Moving in to the second round after beating Brunei. However, and to state the obvious, second round teams were better than Brunei, and despite scoring several goals on the road, a drought at home left them unable to capitalize on any kind of home field advantage.

What we'll miss: We're not China-phobes or anything, but c'mon, a little pro-democracy tweaking of President Xi Jingping, is always a plus in our books.

Carter/Sohel...similar positions
138 Bhalo Thakben, Bangladesh: 2014 #180 (+42)
Why they lost: The final 590 minutes of Bangladesh's qualifying run passed in an offensive malaise that left even Jimmy Carter speechless (YEAH! obscure Carter Joke!). Ultimately falling: five-nil; four-nil; two-nil; five-nil; four-nil; and eight-nil to a Jordan crew that clearly missed the memo about goals against the worst team in your group not counting. In retrospect giving six out of seven games to keepers younger than 25 might have given experience, if not confidence to the young team.

What we'll miss: First choice goalkeeper Shahidul Yousuf Alam Sohel. Not because he was incredible, but because we expect he'll be going into witness relocation programs.

137 Hau ba lai, Timor-Leste: 2014 Finish #203 (+66)
Why they lost: When the Little Samba Island was going well, they were really going well. A famous draw in Kuala Lumpur and a draw at home against Palestine was a vast improvement on the last cup. Even narrow defeats at home to Malaysia and UAE were things to take pride in. But when they went wrong, they really went wrong, with a 10-0 drubbing AT HOME to Saudi Arabia the final straw.

What we'll miss: Samba-offs in place of penalty shoot outs. Honestly, it seems about as fair, and possibly more dramatic (especially if we're dealing with Russian judges). 

136 Ila Al-Liqa, Yemen: 2014 Finish #179 (+43)
Al-Sarori celebrates, that much closer
to a college mixer!
Why they lost: The Red of Yemen didn't have much offense, and when both of their goals at this stage came from 40 minutes from substitute striker Ahmed Al-Sarori. To be fair he's only 17, and better still, he's only 17.

What we'll miss: With the rise of Al-Sarori, we may just be missing the final bottoming out of Yemen. 14 years ago they were dangerous, now they're increasingly an afterthought. Easier to miss the trough than the peak.

135 Phir Milenge, India: 2014 Finish #183 (+48)
Why they lost: India's biggest sports juggernaut: T20 Cricket. Great for a cricket-crazed country and people who love instant offense. Lousy for a minor soccer bubble and anyone who likes a good tea interval. (Sidebar: India also holds a unique distinction, the first team I've ever seen who had to forfeit a game 3-0 after losing it in real time...3-0)

What we'll miss: The probable swan song for Captain and 50 goal legend of the Blue Tigers: Sunil Chettri. Cricket players get half-centuries all the time, Chettri (31) may not be around long enough to add to his tally in another Cup Qualifier.

134 Selamat Tinggal, Malaysia: 2014 Finish #182 (+48)
Really hope they're debating whether
they like "Comet" or "Weeping Willows"
Why they lost: If your country gets shellacked 10-0, you're pretty much cooked in World Cup qualifying. If your country gets shellacked 10-0, you're probably going to be pretty upset with how your team and Federation are working. If you get shellacked 10-0, you might be tempted to show how upset you are at the next home match. However, if you get shellacked 10-0, then show your displeasure by throwing flares and smoke bombs on the pitch while your crew looks for a late equalizer against the best team in the're not helping much.

What we'll miss: A far more angsty counterpoint to the most frustrated American ultras.

133 Sok Dee DerLaos: 2014 Finish #191 (+58)
Why they lost: Laos saved their three goal outburst for a game that did not occur, winning by forfeit over Kuwait...and yet Kuwait still managed to finish six points clear of Tim Xad.

What we'll miss: The statute of limitations running out on the "New Laos National Stadium", constructed in 2009. I never thought I'd see the need for naming rights so clearly. Speaking of...any one want to go in on the naming rights for Laos' National Stadium with me?

132 To Bozdid, Tajikistan: 2014 Finish #186 (+54)
Why they lost: Squished amongst other former Soviet states, Tajikstan has the smallest landmass, relatively minor economic advantages, and a beloved leader/despot who has ruled for 22 years. I'm not saying they're a little disadvantaged in investments in youth soccer, but I'm guessing other things come before set-piece training.

What we'll miss: Despite a clear decline in their form from the last cycle, the Persian Lions have invested heavily in youth development, going so far as to make their U-19 side double up as a club team in their top division. On top of all this, they're making the team the focal point of their the only HD network in Tajikistan, so what I'll really miss is discovering exactly what passes for a "Hot Take" in Tajik color commentary.

131 Dhanee, Maldives: 2014 Finish #187 (+56)
Watch the sunset, or the news....
No brianer in the Maldives
Why they lost: Ahhh, Maldives, pretty enough to be my retirement home, tumultuous enough to be my nightmare. (Seriously, I know I just did a little mini-poli-sci rant about Tajikistan, but the Maldives makes that mess look as controversial as a Rick Santorum sweater vest.) There's a former president in jail for terrorism, a former vice president under arrest for plotting the assassination of his OWN president, and a growing hunger for the authoritarian, China-cuddling, radical-Islam preaching, son-of-a-former-dictator current president to lead the way. With all this unrest it was nice to have Bhutan to beat up on.

What we'll miss: Ali Ashfaq. Now, as he was before, the most interesting striker in Southeast Asia. And possibly, the most trustworthy public persona in the Maldives. 

130 Adios Esta, Guam; 2014 Finish 207 (+ 77)
Why they lost: Like Bhutan, Guam didn't even enter last cycle's tournament. Unlike Bhutan, Guam won a game in this round. They actually won two! And won a draw against Oman to be well positioned for advancement half-way through the round. Then the wheels came off the wagon, right around the time they went on the road.  Dropping their final four matches without scoring a goal (notably, talisman/LA Galaxy player AJ DeLaGarza did not travel for those games).

What we'll miss: Having a little slice of America kick butt in a totally different confederation: USA! USA! USA!

129 Tam Biet,  Vietnam: 2014 Finish 181 (+52)

Why they lost: If you ask the Vietnamese board, it probably has something to do with former coach Toshiya Miura's poor player development. Despite a solid 24 points out of 14 matches under Miura, and a better record with the U-23's, the board canned Miura after getting bounced out of the U-23 championships in January of this year. To be fair, under coach Nguyen Hu Thang, the first local manager to cover a Cup qualifier in over a decade, they did record a thumping 4-1 win over Taipei, and a narrow 1-0 loss away to Iraq.
Nguyen Van Toan...Nào Loons!!

What we'll miss: Scouting opportunities. (Under the theory that Vietnam has a clearer development system than Laos, I thought my local club side--Minnesota United--could consider taking on players who appeal to a large segment of the local fan base.) Two of the most promising candidates: Luong Xuan Truong and Do Duy Manh have already been poached by the J-League and the K-League respectively, but their fellow Academy member Nguyen Van Toan has also been called up...I'm just saying...

128 Thwa Dau Me, Myanmar: 2014 Finish 184 (+56)
Why they lost: Four years ago, we pinned their defeat on that all encompassing of villains, the military junta. This time, it's a little more logical: deprived of all home matches (see the in-match violence that contributed to their elimination last time round), it was vital to gather up as many road points as possible. But a late goal in Lebanon and a fail to scramble home a winner in Laos left them in fourth rather than second.

What we'll miss: Awkward photo ops for Aun San Suu Kyi. Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Parlimentarian, "State Counselor"/Power-Behind-the-Throne in Myanmar's politics, and burgeoning football fan!

127 Khuda Hafez, Afghanistan: 2014 Finish #200 (+73)
Why they lost: Still young, still growing, still optimistic, Afghanistan notched their first point ever in World Cup Qualifying. In fact they notched 9 points in 8 games, both massive improvements for the team. The downside is that the points all came against fellow lower tier squads like Cambodia and Singapore while juggernaut South Korea (and shocking story Syria) ran roughshod over them. 

What we'll miss: With players bringing their training from refugee locales around the world, the mixing of Afghanistan's Swedish, German, Dutch, and American roots makes them a veritable stew...or since we're talking about Afghanistan...a Chalau for the masses.

The fall of Bahrain is, indeed,
a head scratcher.
126 Allah Yisallimak, Bahrain: 2014 Finish #130 (+4)
Why they lost: With so many other rounds of qualifying knocked off before Asia wrapped up, it looks like Bahrain got a little better...but don't be fooled, this is a sharp decline from a team that twice in the last decade, was one match away from a World Cup debut. Maybe their golden generation has rusted, maybe they're despondent that Sheikh Salman wasn't elected as president, or maybe they're the poster children for how oodles of FIFA money can't buy you a trip to the big show.

What we'll miss: Poking fun at Sheikh Salman, I mean...c'mon, he was nearly the most powerful man in football AND a Human Rights abuser! Such a better villain than another bald European linked to offshore bank accounts again...c'mon let's not totally buy into cliches, people!!

125 Paalam, Phillipines: 2014 Finish #185 (+60)
Why they lost: I was rather bullish on The Azkals/Street Dogs at the start of this round, but they whimpered on the way to the finish line through a stunning 1-0 loss at home to bottom of the heap Yemen. 

What we'll miss: The logo that appears on most national team broadcasts: that's a dog that looks like it would even take a bite out of Manny Pacquiao!
124 Smell Ya Later, Singapore: 2014 Finish #138 (+14)
Why they lost: At the end of the day, second place Syria was simply better than Singapore. Big defeats home and away broke up a promising opening half of the campaign, and punctuated a miserable final three defeats in a row.

What we'll miss: I would say the by now psychic team chemistry between 120+ cap duo Baihakki Khaizan and Shahril Izak, but as they both play for the Malaysia's favorite B Team (Johor Da'Rul Tazim) they're nearly inescapable. So I'll just say the dream of covering a game in Singapore and writing off drinks at the Raffles bar as a business expense.

123 'Illa-liqaa, Lebanon: 2014 Finish #95 (-28)
Coming soon to a box near Beriut
Why they lost: As their greatest offensive outburst (a seven goal thumping of Laos) Lebanon can thrive when playing in from the wings, but their inability to repeat that feat against non-Laotian sides like Kuwait and South Korea tamped down their goal difference and stopped them from making their second straight trip to the last round of qualification.

What we'll miss: A host of young debutantes have a chance to make a real impact on the Cedars in years to come. Most notable FSV Mainz's goal keeper in waiting: Daniel Zeaiter.

122 Ila Al-Liqa, Palestine: 2014 Finish #178 (+56)
Why they lost: Palestine needs a much wider pipeline into the burgeoning world of Chilean/Palestinian prospects. The path blazed by defender Alexis Norambuena has now led to Yashir Pinto, who netted two goals in his first ever national cap.

What we'll miss: Any chance to see more matches in the Palestinian territory. After all, if they can host a match in Jerusalem or Hebron, it's because they have a safe environment for foreign teams, referees, journalists and observers. And the more safety there is in Palestine, the better for everyone.

121 Sag Bolun, Turkmenistan: 2014 Finish #177 (+56)
So Excited, But we Can Actually Hide It.
Why they lost: Turkmenistan was at their best at their home stadium in Ashgabat, City of White Marble and gargantuan golden statues of former President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov (who may also have named himself President of the After-Life, reports are vague). Had they been able to take all that white marble with them to Tehran, Oman or Guam, they might not have lost those matches.

What we'll miss: Following up a match in Turkmenistan with that most exciting of Turkemn activities: Bumper Cars

120 Jakshy Kalyngydzar, Kyrgyzstan.  2014 Finish: 188 (+68)
Why they lost: As we all know, as FC Dordoi goes, so goes the Kyrgyz national team....okay, maybe we don't all know that. The Yellow Blue of FC Dordoi Bishkek have put 19 players on the national team in the last year alone. But while that unity often pays off for national teams with cohesive squad mentalities (see Spain), Dordoi's struggles against reigning champions Aly Osh may have affected their confidence.

What we'll miss: Kyrgyzstan is a 30 point Scrabble word...if only they allowed Proper Nouns! 

119 Allah yisallimak, Oman. 2014 Finish #92 (-27)

All for Al-Habsi
Why they lost: Oman seems to be that perpetual bridesmaid of Asian soccer. Always on the cusp of breaking through, never actually doing it. It may have become part of their whole identity, like the Cubs or the Clippers. They've even begun to shuffle blithely to their doom in smaller contests like the Gulf Cup of Nations. Oman needs a win, a convincing, commanding triumph to get back on track. Perhaps they could host Andorra?

What we'll miss: If Daniel Zeaiter is the future of Goalkeeping, let's take a moment to tip our cap to the past in Ali Al-Habsi whose 118 national team appearances (and track record in the Premiership) have set a lofty standard for his heirs to the gloves in Oman.

118 Jongin, Hong Kong: 2014 Finish: #189 (+71)
Why they lost: In the NCAA tournament field they talk about "signature wins", impressive wins against vaunted opponents. Hong Kong needed one of those. Two scoreless draws against mainland rivals (both athletically as well as socially and politically: China. Against a backdrop of the umbrella revolution and perpetual soft power exertion by Xi Jingping, Hong Kong would have thrilled to beat their overlords opponents, or at least settled for eliminating them from the competition. (Poor perfromances by our next two eliminated squads couldn't even give them that small solace)

What we'll miss: Triumphs for democracy.

117 Annyong hi-Kashipishio, North Korea. 2014 Finish: #133 (+16)
Starting at every position soon....
Why they lost: There's a little bit of pressure on the Thousand Mile Horse (Chollima in Korean). Failure may be met with torture or public shaming. So with victory with less than 10 minutes to see out a victory that would move them on to the final round of qualifying, it is entirely plausible that the pressure got to them in Manila: ceding two late goals and beginning the long, slow march back to Pyongyang.

What we'll miss: Pak Kwang-ryong. The lone North Korean to play in Europe (in the Swiss League)...but I've also struggled to identify where he's playing at present. If you google yourself Kwang-ryong: STOP READING. Run, Run, RUN NOW.

116 Salaam, Jordan. 2014 Finish: #34 (-82)
Why they lost: The Chivalrous had a difficult time putting the ball through in the final third. Take away their shellackings of Bangladesh and their 21 goal outburst shrinks to 9. Part of that may come from the revolving door in the manager's seat since their inter-confederation playoff three years ago. Six coaches including two non-consecutive terms for local Ahmed Abdel-Qader, two ill-fated brits and one hapless Belgian have left a once promising squad adrift and listless.

What we'll miss: The vanishing Jordanian strike force of Abdallah Deeb (pushed back to the midfield) and Mossab al-Laham (uncalled for a year, and stalled out on the club side).