Another interesting year has come to an end in Asian soccer. Here’s a look back at the maj0r events of 2015.
An interesting Asian Cup
The year started in Australia with the biggest competition the continent has to offer as 16 teams headed down under. It was an interesting rather than thrilling tournament but this seems to be the trend in modern football. There were some great games, the best of which was the epic 4-3 Iraq win over Iran in the quarterfinal. The good citizens of Canberra are still discussing that clash. The final between the host and South Korea was an entertaining affair and better than most showpiece clashes. Off the field, it was a well-organized and well-hosted tournament.
Guangzhou Evergrande win again in Asia
The Chinese titan won the Asian Champions League for the second time in three years and look ready to dominate the continental competition almost as much as it does at home. The team was not quite as convincing when winning in 2015 as it was in 2013, usually doing just enough to squeeze through into the next round. The final win over Al Ahli of United Arab Emirates was deserved though far from spectacular. That doesn’t matter for the owners who want titles and a record third Asian win in 2016 would not be a surprise.
Mixed fortunes for Southeast Asia
2015 was not quite the year that the continent’s most passionate football region made the rest of Asia sit up and take notice but there were some high points. The best was Thailand. The Land of Smiles is moving forward with the national team playing a standard of soccer that the others can’t match. The year ended with the War Elephants on the brink of progression to the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup. That really would be a major sign of progress for the region. Other signs are not so healthy. The Malaysian national team has been a mess with three 6-0 losses and then a record 10-0 defeat. Indonesia is worse and has been banned from international competition by FIFA since May. The suspension will last for a little while yet though it remains to be seen how much damage will be caused. Singapore’s S-League continues to have problems and the proposed ASEAN Super League is still a vague dot on the horizon with nobody knowing when or if it will happen.
The Chinese Super League goes from strength to strength
Clubs in the Middle Kingdom have continued to splash the cash in ever increasing amounts. Guangzhou Evergrande was the first and the biggest and won a fifth successive domestic title. It was close though as Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men were pushed all the way by Shanghai SIPG and coach Sven Goran Eriksson. Guangzhou signed Robinho and Paulinho in the summer on a spending spree that was matched by Shanghai and its purchase of Asamoah Gyan in a deal that was the biggest ever between two Asian clubs. Other teams have increasingly large funds at their disposal, some of which are in the second tier. And with a lucrative television deal about to come into effect in the league then the future is looking bright.
Excitement in World Cup qualification
There have been some dramatic results in qualification. Who can forget Bhutan, then the lowest ranked team in the world, defeating Sri Lanka to move into the group stage and games against Qatar and China? Then there was the heroics of Guam, winning its first ever qualifiers, and briefly leading its group. The ban of Indonesia and Kuwait added an extra layer of intrigue but there are plenty more games to come.
Some excellent performances from Asian players in Europe
Slowly but surely, some of Asia’s best are showing what they are all about to the world on a weekly basis. Ki Seung-yeung was one of the best midfielders in the English Premier League in the 2014/15 season though, like many of his Swansea City team-mates, he hasn’t been quite as good in recent weeks. In August, Son Heung-min went to Tottenham Hotspur for a record fee ever paid for an Asian player. Shinji Okazaki is part of the table-topping Leicester City team in England while there are plenty of South Korean and Japanese talent looking good in Germany.
Issues in India
The India Super League has once again taken all the headlines in its second edition. The more traditional I-League is struggling to compete against the glamor and the fame of the big name signings that head to the super league. There is talk of a merger between the two competitions with more and more teams withdrawing from the I-League,perhaps something needs to be done.