Monday, November 26, 2007

Asian Cup/Qualifiers Scheduling

Next year, some of our World Cup qualifiers will not be played on full FIFA dates. Obviously this is a problem as clubs will not be releasing there players and we will have to field an A-league based Socceroo side.

This problem is, at heart, caused by the Asian Cup being played in 2007, rather than in 2008. Here are our match dates for next year:

Feb 6 Aus v Qatar (FIFA Friendly date)
March 26 China v Aus (FIFA Friendly date)
June 7 Aus v Iraq (FIFA tournament date - during Euro 2008)
June 14 Iraq v Aus (FIFA tournament date - during Euro 2008)
Sep 6 Qatar v Aus (Full FIFA date)
Sept 10 Aus v China (Full FIFA date)

As you can see, our first two games are during FIFA friendly dates, this means that if players are called up, clubs are required to release their players for only 48 hours. Obviously this is not long enough for them to come back to Australia.

Both games against Iraq are played in June, when clubs are required to release players as it is an "International period" when Euro 2008 takes place, we should be able to bring a decent squad back for those games - although some players may want rest.

Our last games on September 6 and 10 fall on a full FIFA date, players are required to be released for at least 4-5 days so we could get a strong squad back here.

Now the real problem is the first two games we play, we will be able to get back virtually no European players, and although we should be able to put out a decent, A-league based lineup it will make things difficult. If all our games were on full fifa dates, things would be easier - we probably wouldn't see every one of the Socceroo stars back in Australia for every game, but we could negotiate with clubs and see at least a few of our best players coming back for every match.

I'm sure the problem that Australia has is also an issue for the likes of Japan and Korea. If Asian football wants to grow, more and more asian players will need to start making an impact in Europe, and hence the problem that Australia is having will spread to even more nations eventually. Thus it is important to Asian football, that in the future all qualifiers are scheduled on full fifa dates.

How could this be achieved? Well fifa designs it's schedule based on the European teams having a major tournament every two years, the World Cup in 2006/2010 etc. and then the European Championships in 2008/2010 etc. The full fifa dates are designed for qualifying for these tournaments, European teams don't start qualifying for the World Cup untill after Euro 2008, thus full FIFA dates don't occur in the first half of next year, only friendly dates are scheduled. The AFC should realise this and should not have started World Cup qualifying early next year, but later in the year.

Here's the easy solution (note that there is obviously is no chance of a change for this qualifying campaign - but an example of what could be done in the future):

There is a full FIFA date from October 11 to October 15 next year, the two games from February 6 and March 26 could be moved to this date, bringing all World Cup Qualifying matches onto full fifa dates. There will be enough full fifa dates to ensure this also happens in 2009 with the final round of qualifiers.

The sensible thing to do, would be to hold the Asian Cup next year, rather than this year - World Cup qualifying could start in June, then teams could go off to the Asian Cup in July (which doesn't clash with Euro 2008), and then this round of World Cup qualifying could be concluded on the two, full fifa dates remaining in 2008.

This would work well, as 2007 would have been an easier year for our players, who do need rest - you could have had Asian Cup qualifying last year, but that is hardly as crucial as World Cup qualifying, and you wouldn't need to get all our best players back for every game (although there would still be more than enough designated dates for all games to be played on full fifa dates). Go back to 2006, and you would then have the entire year focused on just the World Cup, no Asian Cup qualifiers to worry about - and an easy second half of the year (although probably a friendly) for our players.

The reason that the 2007 Asian Cup was held in 2007, rather than 2008 was to avoid a clash with Euro 2008 and the Olympics - but this is hardly a problem. It would not be a direct clash anyway, Euro 2008 would have finished a week or so before the Asian Cup, while the Olympics would not be untill a few weeks after the Asian Cup had finished - yes media attention might have been lower given the other significant events happening next year, but it would have made a lot more sense, and long term it would be a lot better for Asian football.

Now obviously it's too late to make the suggested changes now, but going forward we have the chance to put the Asian Cup back to the "middle year" between world cups - the next Asian Cup is being played in January 2011, this is only a few months after the 2010 World Cup, and is going to leave a huge gap between major tournaments for the Socceroos and other major Asian nations. It is not too late to reschedule the tournament to January 2012. By 2016, the tournament could be back where it belongs - almost exactly in between world cups - July 2016.

The scheduling for qualifiers is then simple, 2015 would be all about Asian Cup qualifying, 2016 would have the Asian Cup as well as early World Cup qualifiers, 2017 would have the major round of World Cup qualifiers and 2018 would be devoted to friendlies and the World Cup.

It is the best way forward for Asian football.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Big Weekend of International Football

Massive, Massive week of international football this week. The centerpiece is the final round of Euro 2008 qualifiers, with a few other big games as well.

The biggest game of the week is probably Scotland v Italy. The winner will qualify for Euro 2008, while the looser is gone - and given the results Scotland have had lately, you'd have to say that it could easily go either way.

England's fate is also on the line - although their fate is not in their hands - if Russia beats Israel on Saturday morning, they will only need to beat minnows Andorra to qualify for Euro 2008 at England's expense. Lose or Draw in Israel, and England's fate is back in their own hands - they will need to beat Croatia at Wembley next wednesday to go through.

There's also a couple of important games for Australian fans. Firstly, on Saturday night the Olyroos place in the Beijing Olympics is on the line as they face Iraq in Gosford - only a win will do. The Socceroos are also in action against Nigeria in London.

Here's a schedule of the games/broadcast details:

Saturday Morning

-> International Friendly
Austria v England - Setanta Sports - 6:30am (LIVE)

Saturday Night / Sunday

-> 2008 Olympic Games Qualifier
Olyroos v Iraq - SBS - 10:15pm

-> International Friendly
Socceroos v Nigeria - Fox Sports 2 - 1am (LIVE)

-> Euro 2008 Qualifiers
Wales v Ireland - Setanta Sports - 1am (LIVE)
Scotland v Italy - ESPN - 3:25am (LIVE)
Israel v Russia - Setanta Sports - 4:30am (LIVE)
Germany v Cyprus - ESPN - 9:30am
Norway v Turkey - ESPN - 11:30am
Greece v Malta - Setanta Sports - 1:30pm
Poland v Belgium - Setanta Sports - 3:15pm

-> World Cup 2010 Qualifiers
Colombia v Venezuela - Setanta Sports - 7:30am (LIVE)
Paraguay v Ecuador - Setanta Sports - 11:40am (LIVE)
Argentina v Bolivia - Setanta Sports - 11:45am

Wednesday Morning

-> World Cup 2010 Qualifiers
Venezuela v Bolivia - Setanta Sports - 9am (LIVE)
Colombia v Argentina - Setanta Sports - 11:15am (LIVE)

Thursday Morning

-> Euro 2008 Qualifiers
Romania vs Albania - Setanta Sports - 2:30am (LIVE)
England vs. Croatia - ESPN - 6:25am (LIVE)
Ukraine vs France - Setanta Sports - 6am (LIVE)
Hungary vs. Greece - ESPN - 8:30am
Portugal vs Finland - Setanta Sports - 11:15pm Thursday Night

-> World Cup 2010 Qualifiers
Ecuador vs Peru - Setanta Sports - 8am (LIVE)
Brazil vs Uruguay - Setanta Sports - 10am (LIVE)
Chile vs Paraguay - Setanta Sports - 12pm (LIVE)


-> Euro 2008 Qualifiers
Germany v Wales - ESPN - 9:30am
Hungary v Greece - Setanta Sports - 9:30pm
Serbia v Poland - Setanta Sports - 11:15pm