Saturday, January 19, 2008

Winter Fun And Games In Korea

Winter Fun And Games In Korea.
As the snow fell in Seoul at the end of last week, a number of K-League teams were getting ready to jet to warmer climes for pre-season training. Incheon United, to name just one, start a month in Guam on Monday.

Thoughts of Pacific islands may make fans left behind green with envy but the Korean soccer media has been white with shock and indignation over the past seven days. The reason for the furore was the fact that a fairly obscure European soccer statistics site ranked the K-League as the 54th strongest league in the world behind such powerhouses as Lebanon, Singapore and Uzbekistan.

Pointless as it is to compare international leagues, it didn’t stop the media devoting countless articles and time to such nonsense and the fact that it is the off-season only provides part of an excuse. While comparisons are futile, it is tough to resist the temptation of falling into the same trap. The K-League has plenty of problems but as global leagues go, it is fairly good - in Asian terms, "fairly" can be upgraded to "very". Only the J-League is superior at the moment in terms of entertainment, attendances and infrastructure.

While a Japanese club, Urawa Reds, is the current champion of Asia, the K-League is still easily the most successful in the history of continental competition. Korean clubs have lifted the Asian title on seven occasions with Saudi Arabia and Japan sharing second place with four each. Singapore and Lebanon don’t even enter teams into the Asian Champions League, they are only allowed to participate in the AFC Cup – an inferior competition reserved solely for Asia’s "developing nations". For some reason, success in this competition is worth a good deal of kudos - or whatever they use - on the stats site.

The reaction in Seoul was predictable. Newsis Portal site said: “The IFFHS has a lack of knowledge and understanding about Asia and has made mistakes and overlooked much.” Sports Chosun declared that: “we can’t trust these rankings.”

Trust is not normally a word associated with Sports Chosun but in this case the publication is right. Anybody with any knowledge of Asian soccer would not be able to list Lebanon, Singapore and Uzbekistan as stronger leagues than Korea with a straight face. That didn’t stop a good 48 hours of debate on the big portals.

Just as the fuss died down, out came another rank ranking from the same source, as unwelcome as the early dose of yellow dust from China last week. There were no Korean teams named in the top 100 in the world. The highest-placed was Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma way down at 119. Despite the fact that Chunnam Dragons had finished 10th in the league, the Jeolla Province team were noted as the second strongest in Korea and the 267th best in the world.

With teams from Jordan and Singapore somehow listed above the seven-time Korean champions, it at least provided another day or so entertaining indignation. It also added to the debate that has been ongoing for some time in the media as to how the K-League can be improved.

That is no bad thing and it at least keeps us all occupied during this wintry weather until the tanned teams return in time for the start of the new season in March.

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