Four years ago, Southeast Asia hosted the Asian Cup. This time
around, the 10 countries in the region are watching from the
sidelines after none qualified for the continent’s biggest football
Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam played well enough while
co-hosting the 2007 tournament to spur hopes they might be ready to
challenge for the title this year.
But only five nations in the region made it through to the final
round of qualification for the 2011 Asian Cup: Thailand, Indonesia,
Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. And those countries had a dismal
campaign, winning just two of the 20 matches they contested against
teams from outside Southeast Asia.
”We have to think of the bigger picture,” said Peter Butler, a
former midfielder with the English Premier League club West Ham
United who has coached in the top divisions in Singapore, Malaysia,
Indonesia and Myanmar, and is currently leading the BEC Tero Sasana
team in Thailand.
”We need better coaching and better facilities,” he added.
”Southeast Asia was left behind a long time ago when Japan and
Korea showed everyone the way. It is hard to see the gap being
closed as the top nations are reaping rewards for development
schemes and infrastructure put in place years ago. Southeast Asia
has a lot to do.”
Alfred Riedl, who led Vietnam to the quarterfinals of the 2007
Asian Cup and now coaches Indonesia’s national team, said
developing young talent is the key.
”Many federations don’t place enough importance on youth
development,” the Austrian said. ”There is not enough patience to
start a successful youth program because 10 years are needed for
the rewards to be seen. Most of the decision-makers at the
federations or governments are not in their position that long and
only care about themselves.”
Some football experts had placed their hopes on leagues in
Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, which have boosted the salaries of
players in recent years to try to improve the quality of play. But
this has only increased the number of foreign players who are
interested in coming to Southeast Asia, Riedl said.
”Most of the countries here have too many foreign players in
their leagues and, as a national team coach, it is difficult to
find local players for the key positions,” he said.
This would not be such a problem if the top Southeast Asian
players were heading overseas themselves to gain experience playing
at a higher level on a regular basis.
An increasing number of players from Japan and South Korea are
traveling to Europe to play for teams like Manchester United in
England and Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
But Southeast Asian stars rarely move to Europe. Those who have
tried are usually back home quickly.
Vietnam star striker Le Cong Vinh played twice for the
Portuguese club Leixoes in 2009 before returning home several
months later. In 1999, Thai striker Kiatisuk Senamuang spent a
season with the English lower-league team Huddersfield Town, but
never managed to make a first-team appearance.
Few Southeast Asian footballers even play in the leagues closer
to home in South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
This lack of international experience makes a difference in
matches against the more experienced teams in East Asia and the
Middle East, said former Cambodia coach Scott O’Donnel of
”Teams like Singapore and Thailand went close to qualifying for
the Asian Cup but lacked the international experience playing
against different styles of opposition,” O’Donnel said.
”Southeast Asian teams tend to play mainly other teams from
”They need to experience playing against teams from East, West
and Middle East on a regular basis to get used to the different
styles as well as getting used to playing in front of hostile
crowds and in different climatic conditions,” he said.
Thai national team assistant Steve Darby said the Southeast
Asian squads can turn things around with the right investment in
facilities and players.
”The playing talent exists in the region but the countries that
do well all seem to have excellent professional leagues with good
training and playing facilities,” he said. ”That is the goal for
Southeast Asia. It is sad for the region as it is such a hotbed of
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