Football Season Kicks Off

The football season has kicked off with two games played this weekend: Samut Songkhram beat Thai Port 1-0 and Chonburi beat the Army 3-0.

This version of the league has more of a national feel to it, which is good and indeed important and there should be some excitement given that this is a World Cup year and that tends to add lustre to footy wherever it is being played.

It is presumed that the Muang Thong Impact Centres will be the team to beat again, this season. They try to call themselves the Kirins (it is a kind of mythical flying horse thing) but they will always be the Impac’ers to us. I do recall a few years ago the Bangkok Post ran a short weekly column about the Expats League and one phrase stuck in my mind, about a team based in Pattaya and supported by ‘shrill, slim-hipped pole-huggers’ and so that is why Chonburi have their nickname. The Navy, of course, are the Disappearing Containers of Human Bones and Buriram, sponsored by Newin Chidchob, will start the season as the Chameleons. I do not have any particular ideas for either Samut Songkhram or Pichit but no doubt something will occur.

Iran 1 Thailand 0

A last-minute goal by Javad Nekounam allowed Iran to put the Thai team out of its misery last night as the Land of Smilers went down 1-0. That will be the end of the Asian Cup campaign for another cycle and probably marks the beginning of the end of the managerial tenure of Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson – who was always a curious choice and who may now find out some more about working in Thailand.

No doubt there are some who will be able to take comfort from the fact that Singapore have also been eliminated, after being beaten 2-1 by Jordan, who thereby take the second place in the group. Taking a broader view, it is disappointing that ASEAN football is failing to make much progress and is increasingly overshadowed by East and West Asian countries and, these days, by emergent Central Asian (former Soviet) states, especially since some of them seem to have money to invest in their leading clubs.  

It Kicks Off in Tehran Tonight

The big one kicks off tonight at 11 local time (Bangkok time is now 45 years behind the rest of the world) as the plucky Land of Smilers take on the fierce Iranians – consternation has broken out in Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson’s camp as it transpires the Iranians, who have already qualified for the finals of the Asian Championship, will not be sending out their under 11 team supplemented by a few ringers, as had been anticipated. Instead, it looks like the full team will pitch up with a view to getting a good work-out in an international environment in which it can be difficult to bring all the players together at the same time. Besides which, they will want to win.

Apparently, the game will be shown live on Channel 7.

Thailand needs a result of some sort (i.e. not a defeat) and hope that the Singapore-Jordan game works in their favour. We shall see – Iran are quite handy and even though the Thais are, according to Mr Robbo, at full strength with everybody 100% fit, Iran will start clear favourites, so long as they can be bothered with it all. Iranians usually can and their manager can expect severe words if his team lets the fans down.

Still, let’s be positive – it’s still 0-0 now and that might be enough if they can hang on for the next seven hours or so.

Mr Robbo is expected to name a 4-5-1 formation and, if I were him, I would have the driver of the team bus practicing parking it in front of the goal and hoping for the best.

Kicking Off at Supachalasai

Maybe it is just a coincidence but there is another story portraying the Thai people (the little people, that is) as violent: this time, it comes from the King’s Cup match at Supachalasai Stadium, during which fighting apparently broke out on and off the pitch. The match was between Muang Thong United and Thai Port – the fighting does not appear to have been very serious but I did not see ze incident and it is easy to imagine spokespersons either downplaying something that was serious or talking up something that was not serious according to their personal motivations.

From Big Asian Cup to Little Asian Cup

The weekend saw the end of Muang Thong Exhibition Centres/Kirins from Asian Big Cup after they were beaten on penalties in Singapore by the Armed Forces (described, in a slightly bitter story which is the newspaper downstairs but I cannot find online as ‘a failing club with zero support’ IIRC) in a one-off game – this is unfortunate, since the Muang Thongoes slogged their way to the championship, won away handily in Vietnam and then had to fly in and play on an artificial surface and now are out. Well, now they are, like the Scouser Liverpoolers, entered into Little Asian Cup and profess themselves pleased (not sure who actually said she/he was pleased but it probably does not matter) with their draw, which pits them against South China of Hong Kong (as I recall, this was the team whose defeat heralded the famous Gazza Dentist’s Chair celebration some years ago – those were the days, now he seems to be a sad, trouble-making drunk constantly attracting the attentions of the police) … What was I saying? Oh yes, the other two teams in the group are V.B. of the Maldives (must be rubbish – any team named after a rubbish Australian beer must be suspect) and Persiwa Wamena of Indonesia (never heard of them and Indonesian football does not have much of a reputation). The E.C.s should be able to finish in the top two of this group and, therefore, qualify for the exciting next stage.

Thais Spanked by Land of Bacon Trade Representatives

Not terribly surprising but Denmark spanked Thailand 3-0 in the last round of the highly ‘coveted’ King’s Cup, while Poland (or some time of people playing as Poland while the first team was probably busy elsewhere) knocked off Singapore 6-1.

As a result, Denmark finished top with three wins, Poland second with two, Thailand third with one and the Plucky Merlions on the bottom.

I would write more but it is my birthday and I’m having ninety minutes off – come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

Thailand 1 Poland 3

Thailand lost 3-1 to Poland in the ‘coveted’ King’s Cup yesterday, while Denmark saw off Singapore 5-1.

I didn’t get to see the game myself – I rarely have chance to watch anything – but based on the Bangkok Post report, it seems to have been fairly one-sided, with the Poles scoring a couple of times after the Thai defence got itself in a tangle and then scored a third five minutes from the end just after losing a player for a second yellow card. Therdsak Chaiman, sporting monkish tonsure, got a consolation penalty just before the end (not sure if it was the equivalent of the referee offering a mercy hump).

Next up, on Saturday, will be the Land of Smiles versus the Home of Bacon and the Sledded Ones take on the Lion City Flibbertigibbets.

Thailand 1 Singapore 0

The 40th King’s Cup tournament has kicked off in Nakshon Ratchasima with a victory for Thailand over Singapore. The ten-men Thais, wearing their ‘unlucky’ yellow shirts, were reduced to 10 men when Teerathep Winothai was sent off early in the second half but shortly thereafter got the only goal of the game.

In the other match, Denmark beat Poland 3-1 with goals from Soren Risks, Morten Rassmussen and Jesper Bech (no, me neither). On Wednesday, Thailand will play the sledded Poles and the Singaporeans will try to determine what is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Thailand 2 Hyundai Ulsan 1

The King’s Cup kicks off in Nakhon Ratchasima on Sunday and will feature not just Thailand but also Denmark, Poland and Singapore. Not sure what kind of sides Denmark and Poland will be able to put out but I imagine that Singapore will be up for a shock.

In the run-up, Thailand won a friendly the other night against Korean club team Hyundai Ulsan at the Rajamangala Stadium here in the City of Angels. The game ended 2-1 with the winner coming just after the start of the second half. Manager Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson apparently picked a combination of regular internationals and emerging players from the not so successful under-23 SEA Games team. A couple of good performances from Khun Robbo’s team would no doubt make his current position a little less parlous.

Thailand 0 Jordan 0

It was no surprise – the Thai team has been firing blanks for a while, partly because of the injuries to strikers and more particularly because of a lack of guile or, under Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson, any particularly convincing plan to score a goal. The Jordan team was not very good but well enough organised as the back and sufficiently likely to score a breakaway goal to prevent much pressure being built on their defence.

It also rained quite fiercely before the kick off- rain in European countries livens up the grass and provides a bit of an advantage for teams who can pass it well; rain in Thailand tends to turn the pitch into a muddy obstacle course that saps strength and accuracy and reduces the role of skill.

So, now it will be a case of having to get a result in Tehran in order to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup and, if the Iranians (and their fierce crowd) perform to anywhere near their normal standard then there is not much chance of that. Presumably, Mr Robson will find his life about to become a little more uncomfortable.

Thailand 3 Zimbabwe 0

Thailand put three past a weak Zimbabwe team at the Thai-Japanese Friendship Stadium last night, which was pretty much the minimum expected against a team that pitched up on Monday with only five of their regular squad apparently included. Will there be asylum seeking activity?

Manager Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson, who is on the way to China to watch the Mighty Jordan play, was concerned that none of his four strikers could find the net. The Mighty Jordan will play their crucial qualifying game here next Wednesday – I fear a dodgy away win followed by more anti-foreigner sentiment. 

It’s Zimbabwe

The Thai national team will take on Zimbabwe in the Thai-Japanese Stadium this evening (tickets only 50 baht) – I did read that the team that had contracted to play had changed their mind and gone off to play somewhere else instead but the Zimbabwe team stepped in to the breach – can this be true or did I imagine it? Surely the Zimbabwe FA isn’t just kicking its heels and waiting for someone to call them up prior to jetting their team off at an m’s n?

Anyway, the game will be practice for the home-based Thai players prior to next week’s Big One against Mighty Jordan.

The Permanent Revolution of Thai Football

It looks like another few weeks of crisis for Thai football and, as ever, the blame is on individuals rather than systems. After the defeat in the SEA Games (the men were knocked out by two late goals from Malaysia who went on to win the title while the women were defeated on penalties in the final by Vietnam), much misery has descended and manager Steve Darby has been ‘suspended’ by the Thai Football Association (FAT) – it is not clear what exactly this means and full team manager Bryan Robson still expects that Darby will continue in his role as Assistant.

All now hinges on the January 6th Asian Cup qualifier with Jordan – failure to win this game probably means the end of qualification hopes and probably the long-term end of Bryan Robson (about whose appointment I have expressed reservations elsewhere).

FAT leader Worawit came out to demand the players be fitter for the match (as indeed they should be – it is no coincidence that so many late goals have been conceded recently) but would be better employed trying to organise a competitive league that would require fitness. Players do not seem to be anything much these days so it is difficult to keep them on their toes since I doubt Robson is given the resources to keep monitoring all of them – and certain Thai players have the impression that they are slightly better than they really are and so can behave as they see fit.

Unprecedented Disaster as Malaysia Squeak Late Winner

The country of course is still reeling from the shock defeat to Malaysia that meant the exit of the football team (male) from the SEA Games – when Thailand had expected to continue its run of victories in the tournament.

The Thais needed just a draw against a Malaysian team that had already been well-beaten by Vietnam and did not look all that much cop. Thailand duly went one up early in the second half but then conceded two goals in the last nine minutes to see it all come crashing down in flames – the late goals suggested a lack of fitness in the squad (Thai athletes have, in some cases, had a tendency to enjoy themselves when away from the training pitch) and the manager, Steve Darby, is also being criticized (individuals are always criticized, not systems). He has, to his credit, taken full responsibility for the defeat.

Others have determined that the real reason for defeat is the switch of colours away from the traditional red to yellow. In recent political events, red has become associated with the pro-democracy movement and yellow associated with the violent, extreme right-wing PAD mob, which advocates removing the vote from poor people and starting a war with Cambodia.

SEA Games 2009 Underway

While in Malaysia this week, one of the big stories in the press there was the behaviour of their football team, who appear to have taken physical action against the referee for what they seem to think was a string of dodgy decisions in the Vietnam match (controversy and Vietnam? Heaven forefend). The authorities were taking the line that the players were out of order but the referee was no good either. Well, today, they meet the Thai team needing a win to go through to the semi-finals. One would expect the Thai team to have enough nous to get the draw they require but this is the SEA Games and, even though the quality may not always be the highest, it is always entertainingly unpredictable. For example, it is only today that an argument with the international authorities has been resolved so that the boxing tournament can go ahead – we can look forward to more interesting decisions by the judges in all the martial arts types sports, since the results of these are usually determined by the judges. Meanwhile, medals have started to be awarded in the shooting, taekwondo, swimming and other events. As far as I can tell, the media in the region is mixing a sense of nationalism with the undermining thought that it really does not matter that much – back pages are still usually dominated by international sport, after all. The official website for the Games is at Technical capacity in Laos is pretty limited but whoever is responsible for updating the site is doing quite a good job.

Thailand v Cambodia

Thailand play the second match in the Lao-based SEA Games today after an opening 1-1 draw against Vietnam – which has been described in the media as a result of considerable violence by the Vietnamese players, a dubious last-minute penalty and the presence of thousands of Vietnamese supporters who had ‘swarmed’ across the border. Today’s game (which may in fact already be under way, now I come to think of it) is against Cambodia and is anticipated to be something of a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel event as Cambodian football is very poor. Really, very, very desperate, especially at u-23 level.

Thailand 0 Singapore 1

I suggested the ither day that Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson would have to address the problem of Thai players occasionally thinking they were not quite as good as they like to think they are – and now, after just three days of nationalist braying by Thai journalists of how Thailand wiped the floor in Singapore after the 3-1 win there, they succumbed to a tedious, fairly useless and almost entirely inevitable 0-1 home defeat to the same competitors.  Curiously, not so much coverage of this one.

Still, let’s all bash the evil Cambodians, eh?

Singapore 1 Thailand 3

Congratulations to Bryan “Robbo” Robson for winning his first competitive match – 3-1 away in Singapore, which is a good result. The Thais played the red-shirted Lions off the park for most of the game and went into a 3-0 lead. However, a lack of concentration in the final minutes of the match allowed a consolation goal to be scored. In fact, that is not a bad outcome for Robson because he can put the points safely in his pocket and then use it as a legitimate means of asking for improvement from the players. There have been occasions in the past when some of those players have been guilty of thinking that they are a little bit better than they really are.

Pre-match events included a desperate attempt by PM Abhisit, who was in Singapore on tax payers’ money and supposed to be attending the APEC events, to ingratiate himself with the football players. There is not much football played at the extremely expensive and reclusive educational institutions which Mr Abhisit attended during his long, leisurely childhood.

The Big One – Kill or Be … well, disappointed

It’s the big match on Saturday evening – Singapore v Thailand in the first of two games as part of the qualifying group for the forthcoming Asian Championship (speaking of which, congratulations to the Pohang Steelers as club champions of Asia – do remind me to tell you my amusing Pohang Steel story one day).

It will be the first competitive game for manager Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson – following the 1-1 draw at home to Syria in a friendly last week, which completely escaped me.

We can expect a reasonable number of Thai workers in the requisite Singaporean stadium on Saturday evening – I wonder how they decide their pricing policy for such an event – things tend not to happen at random in the Lion City. Well, good luck to the boys – let’s hope that either one or the other is dominant over the next two days so our region has some representation.

Robbo – stuff this up and things will turn unpleasant very quickly. There is a very (unpleasant) nationalist sentiment going around these days which will reject the legitimacy of any 0-1 defeats or worse.

Genuine Damage to Thailand’s Reputation: FAT

Oh dear, oh dear: just when it looked like Thai football was moving forwards into an era of respectability, it is plunged into disrepute once more. First, new Bryan Robson manager presided over a couple of matches at a four team tournament in Phuket: the Thai team included a mixture of youngsters, senior pros and anyone who was available and willing to fill in a few gaps in the squad. First came a victory against a Burmese club side and then a draw and win on penalties against a rather more formidable Vietnamese club side. The latter saw the Vietnamese race into a two goal lead and then try to demand it on a pitch that is described as a cross between a beach and no-man’s-land in a WWI Western Front battle. Robson is quoted as saying ‘oh my God’ when he first saw the pitch and then later spoke about the importance of fitness and never playing on that pitch or anything like it again. And now today, the big story that FAT is being sponsored by McDonald’s, which means free burgers and chips for all players. And the high fat milk shakes. And etc and so forth. According to The Guardian: “Thailand’s top footballers will receive free burgers as part of their new three-year, £545,000 sponsorship deal with the fast food giant McDonald’s. According to the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), McDonald’s will provide £450,000 in cash and the rest in products in exchange for shirt sponsorship for the next three years, starting this month.” So that will be £105,000 worth of products which is equal to some 5 million baht worth of Big Macs and supersized frozen and reconstituted potato powder fries. And this is from the country that wants to be known as the Kitchen of the World? If the Secret Hand were genuinely concerned about the reputation of the Kingdom, it would spend less time persecuting ‘rumour-mongers’ and more time speaking to leading officials of national institutions.