Monday, April 05, 2010

North Korean strikers leading the way

Understandably, no one is giving North Korea any hope of doing anything at the World Cup finals in June.

But take a look at the scorers' charts in the J.League and you'll see two of the country's strikers are leading the way in what is unquestionably Asia's finest league.

The sight of Chong Tese (or Jong Tae-se as the North Koreans spell his name) in second place comes as little surprise given his performances over recent years since breaking through at Kawasaki Frontale several years ago.

But the sight of Ryang Yong-gi's name at the top of the rankings with four goals in five games for newly promoted Vegalta Sendai is a surprise.

Ryang, like Chong, was born and bred in Japan but, at least partially because of the country's attitude towards what they see as non-Japanese ethnic groups, they have grown up with a greater allegiance to North Korea and both have opted to play for the Stalinist regime as opposed to the land of their birth.

That, particularly in Chong's case, is a major loss for the Japanese. While he's not the world's best striker, he does offer a physicality that is lacking within the Japan team at present and he would certainly have been in contention for a place on the plane to South Africa.

Ryang, however, has come to the fore only in recent times. He played just once during the World Cup qualifiers but was in the DPRK team that won the Asian Challenge Cup and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Clearly the prospect of joining the rest of the North Korean side in South Africa has seen him raise his game this season.

Of course, it's still early days in the current J.League season but the North Koreans will no doubt be taking great heart from the performances of two players who are almost certain now to be on their way to the World Cup to take on Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Thais going back to the future?

Thavatchai Sajakul is nothing if not charismatic and now, it seems, he's making an attempted comeback into the world of sport in Thailand.

A wealthy businessman, Thavatchai always knew how to court the media by being readily accessible to the press and always willing to talk about everything and anything relating to Thai football. He was the face of the Thai teams that established the nation as South East Asian football's standard bearers in the mid-90s before a move into political office saw him vanish from the sporting landscape.

Now he's trying to return at a time when the country is split politically, a scenario that is threatening the immediate future of the country's football league, among other events.

Can Thavatchai pull everything back together? Who knows...but he can at least be guaranteed to be able to secure an audience in the media, although he has been guilty in the past of telling the press what he thinks they want to hear (he is a politician after all).

The downside is that Thavatchai is one of the old guard and is that really what Thai football needs at a time when the national team is struggling because of a lack of professionalism within the game in the kingdom? A new start with fresh faces makes more sense than dragging up the old ghosts of the past.