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More Weirdness in Asian Soccer

June 16th, 2015 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, Hong Kong, soccer, Sri Lanka, UAE, World Cup

Soccer in Asia tends to be predictable, when it comes to teams showing up at a World Cup. It will be Japan, South Korea and Australia, and the fourth will probably be Iran, though China someday may seize the last berth. Or maybe Uzbekistan. Or the UAE.

But getting there, during qualifying, that’s where Asia becomes fun. The second round of qualifying 39 teams in eight groups began last Thursday and continued today.

Wacky, often exotic, typically unpredictable stuff.

This is, after all, the confederation of Bhutan and Kyrgystan, Guam and Laos, not to mention war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, not to mention dirt-poor countries like East Timor and Cambodia and mega-rich countries like the UAE and Qatar.

And the results are already all over the place, from “blowout ugly” to “are you serious” upsets. We can expect more until the final round of games are played on March 29, at which point a final 12 will be identified.

Let’s rank the 10 biggest surprises so far, counting down to No. 1.

10. Syria 6, Afghanistan 0. They still play soccer in Syria? After four years of civil war? Amazing. And well enough to thrash the Afghans, who gave up the home game and moved it to Mashhad, Iran. Things are rough when Iran looks like a good neutral site.

9. Saudi Arabia 3, Palestine 2. It was supposed to be a home game for the Palestinians, but safety concerns prompted the Saudis to offer to play it in Riyadh … and then they were pushed hard, which was not supposed to happen. Saudi, clearly a fading power, needed a 94th-minute goal to avoid a surprise draw.

8. UAE 1, East Timor 0. This was supposed to be an Emirati romp, but East Timor’s Brazilian-flavored team hung around for a long time before Omar Abdulrahman scored in the 80th minute. Game played in Kuala Lumpur, because East Timor’s national stadium in Dili, was deemed sub-standard. Take a look, see what you think.

7. Fifa 1, Indonesia 0. Fifa occasionally is a force for good. It told Indonesia’s government to stop meddling with the local football association, and Indonesia failed to cease and desist. So Fifa and/or the Asian Football Confederation kicked Indonesia out of the competition. Indonesia shrugged.

6. Palestine 6, Malaysia 0. After running close against Saudi, the Palestinians made the trip to Kuala Lumpur and went medieval on the hosts. They might pose a threat to big shots UAE and Saudi in Group A.

5. Hong Kong 7, Bhutan 0. Cinderella got nuked; Bhutan became a cause celebre earlier this year when it overcame its worst-in-Fifa ranking (No. 209) and beat Sri Lanka to reach the final 40, but HK scored early and often. China piled on with a 6-0 over Bhutan five days later. Good night, Bhutan.

4. Philippines 2, Bahrain 1. A team that has never played in the Asian Cup shouldn’t beat a Bahrain side that twice in the past 10 years came within a whisker of reaching the World Cup, but that’s what they did, winning again over Yemen in Doha 2-0 five days later.

3. Iran 1, Turkmenistan 1. The continent’s highest-ranked team, at No. 41, should not be settling for draws with any “stan” not named Uzbekistan. Even on the road at a place named Dazoguz.

2. Japan 0, Singapore 0. The hosts have become World Cup regulars and are the second-highest ranked Asian nation, by Fifa, at No. 52, but were held at home (before a crowd of 57,000) by Singapore, ranked No. 154 and winners five days before 1-0 over Cambodia before 63,000 in Phnom Penh. A contender, with North Korea, to win Group H.

1. Guam 2, India 1. A week ago, the 170,000-population U.S. territory had never won a point in World Cup qualifying and now it has two victories in six days. India is not very good, and never has been, but this one was met with horror in India, population 1.2 billion. “HUMILIATION” was the headline in one Indian newspaper. Five days before, Guam beat Turkmenistan 1-0, and leads Group D with six points.


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