Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Looking at the Southeast Asian bets in the World Cup Qualifiers

Looking at the Southeast Asian bets in the World Cup Qualifiers
by rick olivares photo by Getty Images

The dust has settled in the first two rounds of the qualifiers of the 2014 World Cup. And there are three Southeast Asian teams left standing. As exhilarating as it is to be in the group stages, judging by the looks of their competition, it’s not going to be easy. Here’s looking at Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Asian Zone Draw 

Group A: China, Jordan, Iraq, Singapore
Group B: Korea Republic, Kuwait, UAE, Lebanon 

Group C: Japan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Korea DPR 

Group D: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Thailand
Group E: Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia

Singapore (Group A)
Looking at the re-tooled Singapore squad that faced so much criticism during their group stage ouster in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, long-time head coach Raddy Avramovic (who joined the national squad in 2003 and sports a 34-23-39 record) made some changes to the squad’s starting eleven, bench, and strategy. The new faces included Delwinder Singh, Jasper Chan Yuhui, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Shukor Zailan, Zulfahmi Arifin, and Andrew Tan Wee Tat.

The Lions have ditched their long-cherished 442 formation for a 4231 system (implemented all the way down to the youth squads) that hopes to preserve some of their old legs without sacrificing their defense. But against an attack minded Malaysia, Singapore gave up four goals in both legs. Although they advanced to the next round, they have to be concerned with their defense more so when they have some tough teams in their group.

For all the supposed changes, I’m also wondering if Avramovic has found replacements for four key cornerstones of their Suzuki Cup dynasty all who are of the age of 30 and above (Daniel Bennett, Mustafic Fahrudin, Aleksandar Duric and Qiu Li). Duric is 40 for Pete’s sake. How long can he keep trucking like this?

And with Hassan Sunny, their number one keeper injured, Avramovic has given time the number one jersey to Izwan Mahbud who conceded the four goals in the Malaysia series. How raw is Mahbud? Well, he has been with the team since 2004 and prior to the Asian Qualifiers, he had only one cap! Sunny has to double time on getting well quick.

Three of the four defensive backs are familiar faces in Bennett, Shaiful Esah, and Juma’at Jantan. Safuwan Bahrudin, once a reserve, is now starting. The back four hasn’t been particularly impressive thus far and they have shown difficulty in guarding speedier forwards such as Mohd Sali who lit them up for three goals in the Causeway Derby that saw Singapore through the next round 6-4 on aggregate.

While their defense may be found wanting at the moment, the saving grace for Singapore is their offense. They have the dangerous Harrudin along with Harris Harun, Jia Shi Jiayi, and Shahril Ishak.

Up front are the ageless Duric and Li.

Conspicuously absent is the fiery and at times maddening Noh Alam Shah, and subs Emuejeraye Precious, Muhammad Muhamad, and Baihakki Khaizan who have all been dropped from the national pool.

But the #131-ranked Lions are lumped with China (#73), Jordan (#91), and dangerous Iraq (#108). Not an easy task here especially with uptempo teams like China and Iraq.

Thailand (Group D)
Post-Bryan Robson where are they headed? Why to the group stages (Asian Qualifiers of the 2014 World Cup)! Now with Winfried Schafer at the helm, that makes two German head coaches in Southeast Asia with the other being the Philippines’ Hans Michael Weiss.

Schafer may not have the same credentials as Robson who was the longest serving captain of Manchester United and who won a bunch of honors and championships but the German is just as accomplished. As a midfielder for Kickers Offenbach and Borussia Monchengladbach, they won the Bundesliga and UEFA Cup respectively. He also piloted Cameroon to a World Cup finals stint and African Nations Cup title in 2002.

Said Worawi Makudi, Thailand’s three-term football association president, "He's also known for nurturing many of young German talents such as Oliver Kahn and Mehmet Scholl. Hopefully, he hasn't lost his touch and he can help develop our young players.”

Historically, Changsuek, or the War Elephants as they are nicknamed, have done well in World Cup Qualifiers. To date they have played figured in 67 qualifying matches and have a 19-13-35 record. What that means is in 77 matches, they have notched at least a point almost half their games.

Like their other Southeast Asian counterparts, the core of the team came up in 2003-04 and should be hitting their prime. They are led by the young Teerasil Dangda who at the age of only 23 has notched 17 goals in 38 caps. But after attacking mids Datsakorn Thonglao and Suchao Nutnum who both have 10 and 6 goals respectively, there aren’t too many scoring options.

In a group that includes recent Asian Cup runner-up Australia (#23), Changsuek have probably the best chances of advancing as they also have Saudi Arabia (#92) and Oman (#107) in their group as they aren’t too far off at #119.

Indonesia (Group E)
In their World Cup Qualifying history, the Merah Putih have played only three games and have a win, draw, and a loss for their record. But in 2011, Indonesia, by virtue of a 4:3 aggregate win over resilient Turkmenistan are in the group stages. And they’ll need every bit of their homefield advantage as they play three teams that are ranked much higher than they are. Iran is ranked #54, Qatar #90, and Bahrain #100.

Indonesia gets to play two of their first three group matches in their very own stadium of death – the Gelora Bung Karno; a rowdy place if there was ever one.

Indonesia return with essentially their Suzuki Cup line up intact but minus head coach Alfred Riedl who was sacked by the PSSI right before the World Cup Qualifiers much to the derision of Indonesian football fans. In his place is Dutch coach Wim Rijsbergen, the former Dutch defender who played on the Netherlands World Cup teams in 1974 and 78. Rijsbergen also played with the legendary New York Cosmos of the defunct National American Soccer League alongside Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia.

There was some concern by the Persatuan Sepak bola Selaruh Indonesia (the country’s football association) that the Merah Putih had not really advanced and that their FIFA standing of #137 (they slid from #132) was unacceptable. But their 2010 Suzuki Cup runner-up finish and advancing to the group stage of the Asian Qualifiers of the 2014 World Cup should do wonders for the team’s confidence. That and the news that the national government has also appropriated US $5.5 million to augment the US $2.5 million that the PSSI spends on its national team.

So far, despite the naturalization of Cristian Gonzales (who is married to an Indonesian by the way) and the calling up of Indonesian-Dutch Irfan Bachdim, the Garuda have resisted the call-ups of others with Dutch blood. But unbeknownst to the public, they also have two players with Filipino lineage in forward Yongki Aribowo and midfielder Muhammad Ridwan, making the Merah Putih a little more variegated than they might want to believe. So why not bring in their Dutch players?

Another huge change is that Firman Utina is now team captain taking over from the popular Bambang Pamungkas.


  1. IMHO, no ASEAN team will go past the 3rd round. I hope I'm wrong coz I will be supporting our neighbors.

    Kuwait will advance behind South Korea.

  2. Hi Rick, they're actually waiting another dutch-Indo players to join the team (they due to receive their passport by end of the month) Jhon Van beukering, Sergio Van Dijk and Stefano lilipaly, also making the list for naturalisation are two nigerian from Indonesia super league, Greg Nwokolo and Victor Ignonefo. Btw M ridwan has Filipino lineage? thats news to me, because he came from my hometown and played for my team PSIS previously, maybe i will ask him if hes back home.

    about our chance, Indonesia beat Qatar 2-1 in asian cup 2004 and beat Bahrain 2-1 in Asian cup 2007 in Jakarta, so i think our group is pretty much equal. But i think, Singapore will finish second in group stage, they beat jordan and iraq too previously.