News From The Asian Cup And Other Thoughts

In the Asian Cup, all four groups have now finished two rounds, and the playoffs are starting to take shape.  I spoke about Group A earlier this week.  In Group B, Japan started to establish its dominance after beating Syria 2-1.  Japan and Jordan are tied on points and on goal differentials, but Jordan’s next match is Syria whereas Japan plays the already eliminated (and hopelessly woeful) Saudi Arabia.

Group C is the playground of South Korea and Australia.  They played one another and drew 1-1 with Australia’s Mile Jedinak scoring the equalizer in the 62nd minute.  Bahrain beat India 5-2, and the only surprise for me was that India managed to score 2 goals.  That has to be a moral victory somehow.  Bahrain still has a chance to move on if it beats Australia, but that is a tall order.  Australia will probably not lose to Bahrain, so the real question is who will win the group.  The runner-up have to play Iran, which is plenty incentive to win Group C.  The real question left is how badly South Korea will rout India.  That match will not be pretty.

Finally in the Axis of Evil group, Iran has already qualified as group winner after beating fellow George W. Bush enemies Iraq 2-1 and North Korea 1-0.  Iran can get totally blown out of the water by UAE and will still win, although I suspect that will not happen given how much Iran hates its neighbors.  The big match is Iraq v. North Korea.  Iraq also bet the UAE (1-0) in the second round and is currently in second place.  Despite their World Cup appearance, I do not see the North Koreans being good enough to beat the Iraqis.

My quarterfinal matchup predictions: Uzbekistan v. Jordan, Iran v. Australia, Japan v. Qatar, and South Korea v. Iraq.

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I have been thinking a bit more about the Puskás Award, and specifically about the goal of Matty Burrows who plays for the Northern Irish club Glentoran FC.  The goal that brought him to FIFA’s notice is quite a stunner–and for my tastes, far more impressive than the Hamit Altintop goal that actually won the Puskás Award (as nice as that goal was.)  Linus Hallenius’s goal is also worth checking out; it is perhaps even nicer than Marco van Basten’s famous shot against the Soviet Union at the 1988 Euro which it clearly resembles.  My opinion as to who should have won the award however, is neither here nor there.  The Puskás Award is the ultimate example of FIFA subjectivity and myopia, more so than any of the other awards that FIFA gave out that night–which says quite a bit.  And it misses the point.

A goal is both an individual achievement and a team effort.  With some famous exceptions, the most attractive goals are team efforts.  Yes, there is a finisher, and that finish may be extremely stylish, but what makes the goal spectacular is the team effort involved.  The Puskás Award is really a team award.  After all, every one of the three goals I mentioned from this year’s selection benefitted from excellent teammate assists.  No man is an island.

It is the team effort that made Argentina’s second goal against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 so spectacular.  The ball flew traversed all of Argentina before finding the back of the net.  One thing that makes this Barcelona side so spectacular is the team effort that is produced in scoring goals, even those that Messi seems to create out of thin air.  Messi may be the first violin of the Barcelona orchestra, but Xavi is the conductor–and no orchestra is made of only two people.  Individual brilliance can take a player only so far; team brilliance wins championships–and makes legends.

Matty Burrows will never score as magnificent a goal again, nor will we never hear his name again.  He is a journeyman in one of Europe’s minor leagues.  In the UEFA coefficient, Northern Ireland ranks just above Luxembourg and just below the Faroe Islands.  It would have been nice for FIFA to recognize that great moments can also happen when the eyes of the world are not watching and that even lesser players are capable of making people happy.  This however, is anathema to FIFA.  Nevertheless, for one instant Matty Burrows created indelible magic and made himself into something more, and that is worth more than any silly award.

Music that I listened to while writing this post: Christina Aguilera “Beautiful”; Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”.

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Asian Cup News

Two rounds of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup’s Group A are now complete.  As it stands now, Uzbekistan has now won both of its matches after beating Kuwait 2-1 today.  Qatar beat China 2-0 today, showing just how bad the Chinese actually are (and how much worse Kuwait is for losing to them.)  Qatar and China are now tied for second.  I wonder how many other squads would get away with having so many players from other countries as Qatar (by my count there are players from Qatar, Kuwait, Senegal, Ghana, Brazil, and Uruguay on the squad.)  In the final round Qatar plays Kuwait and China plays Uzbekistan.  I will go out on a limb and say that Uzbekistan and Qatar will advance to the quarterfinals from Group A.

It is a sad sad group when Uzbekistan are the clear powerhouse.  The Bahrainis (who are grouped with actually powerhouses Australia and South Korea in the closest thing that the AFC can muster to a group of death) must be pissed off at their bad luck.

No real surprises in the other groups after one round except for Japan only drawing with Jordan(?!?).  The Saudi Arabian FA sacked the national coach after their team’s loss to Syria, which, regardless of his merits, is the most foolish thing they could have done.  Clearly they neither expect to win the Asian Cup, nor want to anymore.  Why don’t they just go home?

India did not embarrass itself in losing to Australia 4-0, although that may be because Australia, now firmly in Asia, no longer have the appetite/need to win matches 31-0.  The real match to look forward to is Australia v. South Korea in two days.  South Korea already beat Bahrain.

In the Axis of Evil (Group D): Iran beat Iraq 2-1, and nothing exploded on or off the pitch, despite the predictions of sports journalists.  North Korea drew with the United Arab Emirates 0-0, although no doubt North Korean state television reported this as a 10-0 victory for the North Koreans.