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.
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.
If we compare events in Iran over the last few days with the pro-democracy protests in Thailand, does that tell us anything important or interesting about Thai democracy?
Well, the first point of comparison is to observe that, irrespective of what the real vote counts should be in Iran, it is clear that people will vote for who they want to vote for and who that person or party might be does not always coincide with what state or international interests might like. Most people outside of Iran would, I would think, consider the incumbent Ahmedinajad to be a dangerous demagogue and his nuclear ambitions dangerous – yet there seem to be plenty of people willing to vote for him and to agree with the belief that he offers the best means of survival in a world in which powerful enemies are waiting to strike. In Thailand, the ideology is quite different but the mass of people have repeatedly voted for the parties that would provide redistribution from the rich to the poor. Democracy means that people should be allowed to vote for who they wish.
However, both in Iran and Thailand, it appears to be the case that the will of the people is to be denied. Here of course a military coup and newly installed judges were employed to oust the democratically-elected government and then find pretexts to ban the parties involved altogether so that the military could install a compliant right-wing puppet. In Iran, it appears to be the case that attempts have been made and are being made to prevent the popular vote being recognised – violence is currently being used to suppress the desire for democracy and it is not yet clear what the results will be (apart from inevitable bloodshed).
In both countries, the state authorities have been perfectly willing to use violence to disperse pro-democracy protestors – there seems to be more scrutiny on the Iranian situation (although of course it is a much more secretive and controlled society so access is more limited) and the international media is less willing to accept state-provided pretexts than they were in the case of Thailand.
In both countries, real power is wielded by extra-constitutional figures who prefer to act largely behind the scenes (or sometimes blatantly in public knowing that the media will remain quiescent). In Iran, these figures clothe themselves in religious robes and therefore make themselves immune to criticism – extensive propaganda campaigns are used to promote a state ideology equating religion with patriotism and virtue and aiming to make any dissident considered to be vicious and evil and an ‘enemy of the state.’
The attitude of the USA is different: Iran has suffered from years of persecution by the west and America in particular down to the ill-advised Bush ‘axis of evil’ policy. Part of Iranian voting behaviour may be seen in that context. In Thailand, the US was willing to support (or at least not convincingly condemn) military intervention because of co-operation by the Thai military (allegedly) with extraordinary renditions and torture and because the democratically-elected government was viewed as aiming to become too friendly with China (in reality as a means of diversifying export and production markets).