Sunday, January 23, 2011

The battle between East and West

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein - recently elected
to the FIFA Executive Committee

The fortunes of Asian football on and off the pitch couldn’t be any more different.

Whilst off the pitch there has been a recent swing of power towards the West, on the pitch it is the East that is dominating.

At the recent 2011 AFC Congress in Doha, long time AFC ExCo member Dr. Chung Mong-joon of Korea was defeated by 35-year-old Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein.

In the other major election to take place at the Congress, Japan’s Kohzo Tashima and China’s Zhang Jilong lost out to Thailand’s Worawi Makudi and Manilal Fernando from Sri Lanka for the coveted seat on the FIFA ExCo.

Makudi and Fernando and both close allies of Mohammed Bin Hammam, arguably the most powerful man in Football. It is the first time in a long time that neither Japan or Korea will have a representative on the FIFA ExCo, representing a seismic shift in power.

But while all this has been taking place, the battle on the pitch, which you could argue is far more important, has been trending in the opposite direction.

For the first time since 1974, no team from West Asia qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and now, for the first time since 1964, the final four at the AFC Asian Cup won’t include a team from West Asia.

In fact it will only be he fourth time since 1964 that a team from West Asia hasn’t won the tournament. And in all honesty, no West Asian team looked likely.

Only Iran looked like they had the cattle for a run to the title, however their dream was ended last night by a quality South Korean side looking to win their first Asian Cup since 1960.

Japan will be hoping to win their fourth
Asian Cup from their last six attempts
It’s not just a trend at national level either, a look at the AFC Champions League, Asia’s premier club competition, shows the dominance of East Asia over the last five years. The last five winners of the AFC Champions League have come from either Japan or Korea.

It’s an interesting situation given the increasing speculation that an East-West split might take place. The issue of FIFA World Cup allocations would arguably be the hottest issue of all. If the split absorbs in Oceania, it would increase the total allocation to five spots.

Would that be split evenly, 2.5 spots each, or would one side win out by claiming three spots leaving the other with just two. How would that be decided? Performances on the pitch suggest the East deserve the larger allocation, yet getting that through would require a lot of behind the scenes work.

That would be increasingly difficult now given the control that West Asia has over the AFC boardroom in Kuala Lumpur.

With FIFA World Cup qualifiers due to begin in earnest in September this year, it will be interesting to see if the East Asian dominance on the pitch continues and just what affect, if any, the West Asian dominance will have off the pitch.

It’s a battle worth keeping an eye on.


1 comment:

  1. A big part of the problem off the pitch, I think, is East Asian history, which makes it difficult for Japan, China and South Korea to field a single candidate that all three of them can agree on. It'll be very interesting to see whether Hammam decides to stand against Blatter, especially given Blatter's cuckoos in the AFC nest and Chung taking charge in Oceania.

    On the pitch, it looks like the predominantly youthful South Korean and Japanese teams might dominate for a while to come.