Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 19 News List

AFC still has plenty of room for improvement


First, the good news. Iraq's extraordinary victory in this Asian Cup captured worldwide attention. The story of a soccer team achieving so much against the backdrop of tragedy, chaos and despair in its home is a captivating one.

The headlines created publicity that no marketing budget could generate, the inspiring Iraqis giving the Asian Cup unprecedented exposure outside the continent.

Now for the bad news. For all the increased professional organization of the Asian Cup, the region's soccer officials did not need to look far to see where it can improve.

Concurrent preseason friendlies involving European clubs across east Asia brought crowds and levels of public interest that sometimes outweighed Asia's principal national team tournament.

And while not yet at the level of the European or South American championships, some of the soccer played by finalists Saudi Arabia, 2004 champion Japan, Iran and Uzbekistan was worthy of any continental tournament.

That was cause for self-congratulation for the Asian Football Confederation, which also deserved praise for being bold enough to spread this tournament across four nations.

"There were difficulties in the beginning but by the time the competition started, most of these difficulties had disappeared," Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam said. "There is a lot to be learned if ever again we were to try to organize the competition in more than one country."

The major embarrassment was a 25-minute power failure that caused the lights to go out late in the group match between Saudi Arabia and South Korea in Jakarta.

The blame was put upon a general power failure in the area rather than any organizational error, but the sight of players making conversation while officials scratched their heads was not something the AFC will put in its highlights package.

There was a further mishap in Malaysia when the Iraq team arrived ahead of its semi-final only to find the hotel overbooked. Players and coaches milled around the lobby for several hours until they were finally accommodated. Again, nothing major, but it's hard to imagine this happening in the World Cup.

Still less would you expect World Cup players to schedule their marriages on match days, but that was one of the quirks of this Asian Cup. Thailand's Datsakorn Thonglao and Vietnam's Phan Van Tai Em, both important players, missed vital games that clashed with their weddings, demonstrating a lack of faith that their teams would be in contention at that point.

Malaysia's role in the hotel mix-up added to the poor performance of its team, which was clearly the worst in the competition. Prior to the Cup, there was concern raised about how competitive the host nations would be, given they have low FIFA rankings and had next to no pedigree in the competition.

Vietnam was the best performed of the hosts, making it through to the quarter-finals.

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