Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Korean success a downer for ACL

Four South Korean teams in the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League tells its own tale while the failure of any of Japan's club to progress to the last eight underlines the sea change that has taken place in the continental club game over the last two years.

Kashima Antlers, once again, failed to deliver on the regional stage despite their status as triple J.League winners. The myopia that has long dogged the Ibaraki-based club continues to blind their leaders from the benefits success at Asian level can bring.

Gamba, meanwhile, are clearly not the team they were two seasons ago and their disappointing showing in the ACL mirrored their troubles so far in the J.League. The failure of Kawasaki Frontale and Sanfrecce Hiroshima to advance from the group stages was in some respects unsurprising given the clubs were under new management or lacking in experience respectively.

So the Koreans have benefitted with Seongnam Ilhwa, Pohang Steelers, Suwon Bluewings and Jeonbuk Motors joining Qatar's Al Gharafa, Saudi Arabian duo Al Hilal and Al Shabab and Mes Kerman of Iran in the quarterfinals.

It's a line-up that does little to excite and ultimately it will lead to a decline in interest in the tournament when it resumes in September.

The domination of the tournament by clubs from one country can do it little good, but when that nation is one in which viewing figures for last year's competition were among the lowest in the region, then it can't be positive - and that was despite Pohang emerging from the 2009 final as champions.

The ACL receives little by way of media attention in Korea, despite the sustained success of the country's clubs in the competition over the last 15 years in its various guises. Outside the nation, K-League clubs lack the glamour and presence of many of their counterparts in near-by nations.

At a time when the AFC and their commercial partners are looking to enhance both the profile and the value of their biggest annual competition, the absence of clubs from Japan, China and Australia - as well as Iranian giants Esteghlal - will hurt the ratings and, in turn, lower the value of the event.

Four K-League clubs in the quarterfinals of the ACL may suggest strength in depth within Korean club football, but for the profile of the competition itself it brings little positivity at all.

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