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Wednesday, January 5, 2011
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine football has a lot of things going for it, which, if properly harnessed and handled, can enable the sport to take off in the country in the next few years, according to Brendon John Menton, Vision Asia coordinator of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
"We see a lot of positive elements in your football. All it needs is to come up with a organized development plan then put it into action. That’s what we’re here for," Menton said on Tuesday at the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Shakey’s United Nations Avenue branch in Manila.
Joining Menton in the session was Philippine Football Federation (PFF) secretary general Pablito Araneta.
Menton heads a five-man team that has been in Manila since Saturday to evaluate the needs of local soccer. The team will then come up with a strategic development plan in a month’s time to help upgrade the standards of the sport here.
"We are basically targeting five areas that we feel should be addressed first – administration, clubs and competitions, coaches and referees, and youth and grassroots sports development," Menton said.
He added that after their visit, they will return to the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to draw up a "football blueprint" for the Philippines that will be "practical, doable, and attainable."
"We in Vision Asia will not just come up with a plan," he said. "We will be actively involved with the PFF in implementing the program that we think will suit your country best. It may take three years, five years, but we intend to provide all the support needed in helping Philippine football get to where we want it to be."
AFC’s Vision Asia is a brainchild of AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam. It is geared towards following the direction of the International Football Federation (FIFA), the world governing body for the sport, in making clubs the centerpiece of promoting and popularizing the sport.
"I am pleased to note that there are embryonic clubs already set up," Menton said. "This is what FIFA wants – making clubs the center and catalyst of development. We in Vision Asia will help Philippine football to reach that goal."
Menton said he and his team witnessed the opening of the Filipino Premier League last Sunday, noting that this was one of the "positive things that we saw."
He cited the example of India, one of the earliest Asian countries to enroll in the program, which has now has a full-pledged national league with competitive clubs.
"We helped India in setting up the league, which is now very successful," Menton said. "We hope we can do the same in your country."
For his part, Araneta said that having the Vision Asia people to help the federation "will enable us to set the proper direction for football in the country."
"We can now expect some concrete things to happen with the help of the AFC," Araneta said.
Aside from Manila, the Vision Asia team was set to fly to Cebu late on Tuesday to also evaluate football needs at the provincial level. The contingent will fly back to Kuala Lumpur late Friday.
"Football development may appear slow," Menton said. "But we should not be upset about its progress. Because we believe, once the proper elements are there, then much can be attained."
BAGHDAD — Iraq was the feel good story of the last Asian Cup, winning an unlikely title to give its war-weary residents something to celebrate. Four years later, it comes in as defending champion aiming to prove that title was no fluke.
Since its historic victory, Iraq football has fallen victim to political infighting that got the national federation suspended by FIFA from world football and inconsistent form from the team, which has slipped from 58th to 101st in the world rankings.
But with the arrival of coach Wolfgang Sidka in August, the team appears to have found some of the magic that contributed to its amazing run in 2007. It has won eight matches since September, including wins over fellow Asian Cup contenders Saudi Arabia and it reached the Gulf Cup semifinals — where it lost on penalties to Kuwait — after beating Bahrain.
"Our ambition is to be the champions again," Iraq captain Younis Mahmoud said. "Through winning the cup, we did what America and the government couldn't do, which was to unite the country."
Team manager Abdul-Khaliq Masoud said the squad is in a tough group, but is confident of advancing to the knockout stage.
"Our expectations are high because we have a team of talented, experienced players," Masoud said. "We know that our group is very difficult, but we have full trust in our team and think we can win the crown again."
Sidka, who has previously coached the Bahrain national side and a Qatar club team, is cautiously optimistic about Iraq's chances. It is drawn in a relatively tough group that includes archrival Iran along with North Korea and United Arab Emirates.
"First, we have the match with Iran and that's our neighbors and our rivals," Sidka said in an interview on the Asian Football Confederation website. "We'll try to reach the quarterfinals and then we will see."
For many football fans, Iraq's surprising run in 2007 remains one of the great Cinderella stories of that year.
After beating Australia in the group stage, Iraq beat South Korea in a semifinal shootout and then edged three-time champion Saudi Arabia in the final. The team's first continental victory set off a frenzy of national pride, prompting wild dancing in the streets and bringing the deeply divided nation together at a time of some of the worst sectarian fighting in centuries raged between Sunni and Shiite militias across the country.
The streets of Iraq are more peaceful now but political tensions have spilled over to the football boardrooms. Two coaches were fired after the team failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and the team was banned by FIFA for five months in 2009-2010 after Iraq's Olympic committee disbanded the country's football federation for alleged financial and administrative irregularities.
Since the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq's Shiite-dominated government has wanted to purge football — the most popular sport in Iraq — of any officials with alleged ties to the deposed Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein.
In July, men in military-style uniforms raided the football federation's offices carrying arrest warrants for several of its officials, including the Sunni president Hussein Saeed. The government denied any responsibility for the raid.
A few weeks later, a scheduled poll to elect new leadership of the Iraqi Football Association was canceled when a Sunni faction supporting the incumbent president met in Irbil, claiming it was too dangerous to travel to Baghdad, where backers of Shiite challenger Falah Hassan had gathered.
The team avoided a second suspension after FIFA gave both groups a year to settle their differences and elect a new board.
Najih Hamoud, the deputy president of the IFA, insisted the leadership row has not affected the team's performance.
"The problems had no affect on the team," Hamoud said. "They focused on training and playing teams from Palestine, Syria and the Gulf."
BEIJING — China's much-maligned footballers get a shot at redemption at the Asian Cup after being drawn into a group that offers a decent chance of qualification into the knock-out round.
China is in Group A with host Qatar, traditional Central Asian power Uzbekistan, and Gulf stalwart Kuwait, all teams ranked beneath the underperforming Asian giant.
A smooth qualifying campaign that included a 6-1 thumping of Vietnam and back-to-back wins over Lebanon should further boost China's confidence. Wins over Macedonia, Latvia and Estonia in recent friendlies hasn't hurt confidence, either.
China's improved performance is credited in part to coach Gao Hongbao, who has brought a steadying influence to the team in the almost two years since his appointment.
China has climbed from 93 to 87 in the FIFA world rankings in 12 months, reversing a steady slide in previous years that included its failure to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. The decline had prompted much angst among the country's sporting authorities and top government leaders more used to reaping sporting glory, including dominating the gold medal tally at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Gao has a young squad in Qatar, with an average age of just 23 and no player over 30. Schalke 04 midfielder Hao Junmin is the only squad member who doesn't play in the domestic league.
Perhaps wary of past stumbles, Gao is being careful not to burden his players with ambitious expectations.
"It's enough just for them to perform to the best of their ability," Gao told reporters a recent training camp.
Fans won't see many familiar faces in the lineup, with captain Du Wei and Qu Bo the only veterans of the 2002 World Cup — China's sole appearance in football's marquee competition. Veteran goal scorers Shao Jiayi, Zeng Zhi, and Li Weifeng are all being left at home, although Gao isn't ruling out their future return to the national team.
"The Asian Cup is just a stage in our work. If we need them in future, then we'll call them back," Gao said.
While the squad has little experience in major international competitions, they can hardly do worse than recent Chinese teams.
Along with its World Cup troubles, China crashed out of the group round of the 2007 Asian Cup. Hosts China also failed to make it out of their group in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was dismissed from the knock-out round of last month's Asian Games by ultimate champion Japan.
That's a far cry from 2004, when China was runnerup to Japan in the Asian Cup it hosted. It has never won the continental tournament.
China football failures mostly come down a lack of school and community teams and the country's overwhelming reliance on elite sports academies to train players from a young age.
While the state system has brought success in technical sports such as gymnastics, it seems poorly suited for football, where star players may not begin to show their true potential until their teens.
Chaos and corruption in the domestic league hasn't helped, although a thorough effort to root out the bad apples seems now to be gaining traction.