Mixed year for Asian football

SINGAPORE - Asian football continued to make progress in 2008 with successful club competitions and some quality international fare, but Olympic disappointment and an internal dispute soured the year.

SINGAPORE - Asian football continued to make progress in 2008 with successful club competitions and some quality international fare, but Olympic disappointment and an internal dispute soured the year.

The AFC Champions League was again a success with a Japanese team - Gamba Osaka - lifting the trophy for the second year, beating Australia's Adelaide United 5-0 on aggregate.

For Japan it was a memorable season, being voted national team of the year while Gamba was club of the year. Uzbekistan's Server Djeparov was adjudged to be the best player.

In contrast, China suffered one setback after another, with the national team slumping on the international stage and attendances down domestically amid more scandal with Wuhan expelled from the Super League.

China failed to make the final round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but 10 teams are still in the hunt, led by traditional heavyweights Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arbia.

There was little joy for Asia at the Beijing Olympics with none of the region's men's team's making the knockout rounds. Among the women, Japan did best, losing the bronze medal playoff to Germany 2-0.

But there was success for the Korean women at the inaugural U-17 World Cup in New Zealand, where they beat the United States 2-1 in the final.

North Korea has been a dominant force in Asian women's football and they reinforced that reputation by edging China 2-1 in a thrilling finale to the Women's Asian Cup in Vietnam, with Kim Young-Ae netting the winner.

On the domestic front, change is starting to come slowly. While a handful of leagues remain credible, others still wallow in mediocrity.

But Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam is trying to fix that with a revamp of the Champions League in 2009, designed to instil more professionalism into clubs and leagues.

He said he was satisfied with what had been achieved this year.

"All in all it has been one of our most successful years," he said. "We had a plan to work to and it looks like all our plans functioned the way we wanted."

He added: "Most of the competitions, if not all, have been won by Asian coaches, which is something to my satisfaction."

The global financial crisis was at the forefront in the second half of 2008, with some sports affected. But Bin Hammam said that in terms of sponsors, it had not hurt Asian football and was not expected to next year.

"It's not really going to impact us. So far what has affected us is the increase in prices where hotel rooms have gone up, travel tickets have gone up, that sort of thing," he said.

"We still have the money but the value of that money has been reduced, Otherwise, no other effect."

While the AFC applauded progress made this year, it found itself embroiled in controversy after Bin Hammam decided to open bidding to relocate their headquarters from Malaysia, which has been its home since 1965. - Sapa-AFP

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