John Duerden says that despite an influx of money across the continent, clubs and governing bodies remain haphazard in their organisation
"A team that has scored just one goal in four matches has eight points. I am simply too amused to try and find an explanation to this," said Uzbekistan's Olympic coach Vadim Abramov of United Arab Emirates' resurgence in the qualifying group. Amusement was not the general reaction after the worst of the wildly varying standards of professionalism in Asian football were revealed once again.
Make that twice. Two of the three groups in the Asian zone of qualification for the 2012 London Olympics were dramatically changed after FIFA intervened in February. Both Qatar and Iraq were found guilty of fielding players who should have been serving suspensions after earlier yellow cards. Back in November, Qatar drew 1-1 with Oman, while Iraq defeated UAE 2-0. Two months later, both teams were handed 3-0 defeats.
Abramov's mood was not improved when his team lost to Iraq and UAE defeated Australia on February 22. Uzbekistan were three points clear at the top of their group and in sight of a first ever Olympic spot at the start of the month. They are now three points behind the leaders and have to beat the Emirates – who now have 11 points and two goals scored – when the two meet on March 14 in Tashkent.
South Korea also have reason to feel aggrieved. Their three-point lead over second-place Qatar was replaced by a one-point advantage over Oman. Hong Myong-bo, who captained the country to the semi-finals when they hosted the 2002 World Cup, can at least take comfort from his team's victory in Muscat, which clinched their spot in London.
Despite the dazzling stadiums and infrastructure in countries such as Japan, South Korea and China – and the big-money signings of UAE and Qatar – barely a qualification campaign goes by without some such shenanigans. One official at the Asian Football Confederation admitted with some exasperation that some national associations prefer to spend their money on big-name managers rather than competent administrators.
In August, after thrashing Tajikistan in the second round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup, Syria were ejected. They had fielded George Maroud, a player who had appeared for Sweden's Olympic team in the past. The president of the Syrian federation claimed that all the papers were in order and procedures had been followed. He said the decision was a political one, linked to the ongoing civil unrest in the country.
National associations are not the only parties at fault. Last year's Asian Champions League winners, Al Sadd, who went on to finish third at the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup, benefited twice from administrative incompetence. The Qatari team only gained entry to the competition after a Vietnamese club failed to submit the correct documentation; they were ejected before a ball was kicked. Then, in the quarter-finals, Al Sadd lost both legs to Sepahan but ended up going through – the Iranian team had selected newly signed goalkeeper Rahman Ahmadi, who had been booked in his two previous games in the competition for former club Persepolis.
Some have called upon the Asian Football Confederation to get tough. Under suspended president Mohamed Bin Hammam, the confederation focused on raising standards of professionalism around the continent. Admittedly, this is not a minor task.
This was underlined in the middle of February, when Adelaide United were forced to play against an Indonesian team for a place in the Asian Champions League group stage. The Australians had originally been given a bye, due to the fact that Persipura Jayapura were part of a rebel league in their country that is not recognised by the Asian confederation or FIFA. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the game should go ahead and it did so, at very short notice.
Adelaide won, but they were deeply unhappy at the whole affair and considered taking the matter further. These thoughts came to an abrupt end following reports that their Brazilian defender Cassio was ineligible for the match – he had received two bookings in his last two appearances in the competition. With just ten days before this year's tournament begins, it is still unclear whether Adelaide will take their place in the group stage. The disarray would be a source of amusement if it was not so sad.
From WSC 302 April 2012