Thursday, March 04, 2010

Wake-up call for South East Asia

The final list of qualifiers for the Asian Cup is complete and, less than three years after the region hosted the last event, not one nation from South East Asia has progressed to the finals of the continental championship.

Singapore, in the end, went closest but were eliminated by a 61st minute winner in Jordan from Bani Yaseen while Thailand lost out to Iran in Tehran to end their hopes. The rest of the region's national teams were eliminated long ago.

And yet, come December, the likes of Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam will all become hot under the collar at the prospect of going head-to-head against one another in the Asean Championships and, for many, their lack of involvement in the continent's biggest tournament will be all but forgotten. Heads will be buried in the sand and lessons will not have been learned.

One need only look at Malaysia to see how shortsighted the football authorities of South East Asia tend to be. An overhaul was promised of the entire system after their dismal performance at the Asian Cup in 2007, only for the country to continue to be mired in the nonsense that has stifled the development of the game there for decades.

Sure, they won the gold medal at the South East Asian Games, but as the performances of the region's national teams in qualifying for the Asian Cup has now proven, that means next to nothing.

It's time the nations of South East Asia forgot their obsession with one another and started to aim higher while still setting achievable goals. The Thais can talk about qualifying for the World Cup all they want, but if they can't make it into the Asian Cup - which features the top 16 nations in Asia - then what hope do they have of taking one of Asia's four World Cup berths?

Indonesia, too, must take a long hard look at itself. These results mean the country's unlikely bid to host the World Cup just took another pounding - for a nation of its size and which has such an unquenchable passion for the game, why can they not produce a team capable of being competitive at any level?

It's time for fans and the media in these countries to rise up and make it known to the self-serving administrators who run the federations in many of these nations that they will stand for this ineptitude and lack of professionalism no longer.

There's a passion for the sport in South East Asia that matches - and at times surpasses - that shown elsewhere in Asia. That love for the game deserves better results and more professional performances. It needs federations to be implementing proper grassroots development, setting goals higher than merely beating their local rivals.

What it requires is selfless leadership, properly financed coaching programmes and professionalism from top to bottom. Of the quintet of SEA nations that missed out, only Singapore has a template in place to achieve higher levels of performance. Size, rather than ambition, is what has hurt the Lions more than anything else.

But that defence does not hold for the rest. There will be those that claim professionalism is starting to creep into league football in the region - and there can be no denying the advances made in Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand on that front - but it's still not enough. More needs to be done.

Reports in Australia claimed the Indonesian players had to pay for their own visas to enter the country for their game against the Socceroos in Brisbane on Wednesday evening. That's unacceptable and symptomatic of the problems that exist. Similar stories are regularly told across the region - of players paying toll fares for team buses going to training and the like. If there is a lack of professionalism at that level, then you can be guaranteed that it permeates the entire set-up.

Things need to change, but will they? Failing to qualify for the Asian Cup does not sting the sense of national pride in many of the SEA nations - even though it should - so holding out for major improvement is perhaps a forlorn hope.

But it needs to happen and perhaps now it's time for the fans to take action and push for those changes once and for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment