Overshawdowing just about everything, including the Asian Champions League Round of 16 results are the earthshattering indictments this morning from the US Attorney General’s office resulting in the arrests of 7 high ranking FIFA officials in Switzerland on corruption, bribery, embezzlement, you name it. The investigation has a wide scope, potentially far reaching and is shaping up to becoming a watershed moment in international football history.
Some of the highlights of the morning press conference in New York revealed FIFA officials laundered money through CONCACAF headquarters in Miami – thus one of the main reasons for the US government’s involvement in the investigation. They detailed an entangled web of corruption for over 2 decades involving sports market firms in connection with FIFA officials over TV rights, tournament hosting rights, and FIFA elections that brought about a continual 15 year iron grip on power by Sepp Blatter. Though Sepp wasn’t one of the officials arrested today, Attorney General Lorretta Lynch mentioned that the investigation hasn’t indicted him…yet.
A separate investigation launched by the Swiss government is looking into corruption and bribes that controversially awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022 respectively. FIFA maintained that they will not re-vote on the hosting rights for those World Cups, but that was before the firestorm brought about by the arrests and charges leveled this morning. Attorney General Lynch said FIFA would need to consider whether going ahead with the World Cups in Russia and Qatar should continue as planned.
Of the 7 arrested, they include several FIFA vice presidents and the head of Brazil’s footballing organization (awesome backdrop I might add as they roused the officials in the middle of the night during the start of FIFA’s annual meeting in Switzerland). While it was heavy on Central and South Americans, the investigation could eventually reel in officials from the Asian Football Confederation. The press conference revealed that AFC officials were involved in paying bribes during the 2011 FIFA presidential election.
One more thing to consider for Tavern goers: this raises the specter, given the evidence that the vote was rigged and rife with bribery for the World Cup hosting rights for 2010 and the future World Cups in 2018 and 2022 – there’s the distinct possibility that the 2002 World Cup hosting rights in Korea and Japan came about via unethical means. Would that mean Korean and Japanese public officials in the 1990’s in joint collusion with the KFA and JFA were involved to ‘secure’ hosting rights?
Let’s extend this further, shall we? A number of Taeguk Warrior supporters in the past have been disenchanted with the KFA. Forum talk alleges backroom corruption, resulting in politicized appointments to the national team -thus weakening the full potential of a best case starting XI. While at the moment there’s not a whole lot of evidence to support this theory (at least no smoking gun has emerged publicly), we can offer this for your consideration: let’s just hypothetically assume there’s some level of corruption in the KFA given that the head of Brazil’s FA is now under arrest for embezzlement -Wait a tic – you might say that’s not quite fair – everyone is innocent until proven guilty. You would be right, but for the sake of argument, let’s go with that theory – some level / degree of corruption within KFA exists. A side effect of embezzlement and siphoning of funds would then negatively impact the Korean national program, possibly in the form of, let’s say less funds for training purposes as one hypothetical example. Is that a remote possibility or are we closer to the truth than we suspect? How about appointments for head coaching positions, like the U18 team?
And so it is the Tavern has just fallen guilty of rampant speculation. Any self respecting Tavern owner would cut off discussions lacking in journalistic merit right there — and yet the fact remains, the KFA, like FIFA, has practically no transparency. That alone opens the discussion and begs the question – what exactly is going on behind closed doors. Some FA’s run better than others, but with the state of football in Korea struggling to gain a foothold internationally given it’s crucially debilitating handicaps (see mandatory military conscription) and an indifferent public who would rather be entertained by sideshows at a baseball game than enter a virtually empty stadium built for the 2002 World Cup to support their local K-league team, the KFA has dropped the ball in a number of different significant ways. What are they really doing to improve the infrastructure of the Korean football program – what really are they doing ? In fairness, I’d imagine that a number of KFA sponsored youth programs are relatively ok and have some tangible progress to show for it. But again, it come down to overall transparency and their lack of it should now come into sharp focus. Here’s one question that they won’t currently answer: what’s the KFA’s financial statement in 2015 look like? How is money coming in and where is it going out of the KFA? What the spending for youth training or coach training, and is it sufficient to keeping up with international standards? Those are some of the questions that a more transparent KFA would dare to answer. If there’s anything positive that comes of the FIFA indictments as it pertains to the KFA, perhaps we may see contrition -perhaps a public demand for further scrutiny of their tactics, methods, programming and financial activities. It raises other pertinent questions -How does the governing body at the KFA work? What’s the protocol for election procedures?
If the spool of FIFA to AFC entanglements unravel for investigators even more, who knows where the rabbit hole will lead to with any possible connection between corruption in the AFC and local FAs within Asia. The Tavern awaits…
Onto the Asian Champions League…there was such high hopes before last week. 4 K-League sides entered the Round of 16. Only one advanced. Let’s get to the 2nd leg highlights:
Kashiwa Reysol 1 – Suwon 2 (aggregate 4-4) Close for Suwon as they not only closed the gap after a debilitating 2-3 loss at home last week, after Jong Tae-se and Ku Ja-ryong goals, they were in the aggregate lead at Kashiwa and were ready to advance. Not so fast, Yusuke Kobayashi scored for the home side, equalized on aggregate but with Kashiwa’s 3 goals scored away at Suwon last week, had the tiebreaking advantage. Suwon needed just one more goal but fell short.
Beijing Guoan 0 : 1 Jeonbuk Hyundai (aggregate 1:2) Jeonbuk advances, but created a lot of drama and headaches for themselves by not putting away the game when they had the advantage in the 2nd half – nearly let this game get away from them towards the end. Lee Jae-Sung’s through ball found substitute Edu – his strike was right on target. After the goal, Jeonbuk’s offense kicked into high gear, while Beijing were pegged back, absorbing waves of Jeonbuk attacks. Several open net chances for Jeonbuk went begging – Lee Dong-Guk missed 2 of them. Another 2 shots hit the Beijing crossbar. That gave Beijing a chance to get back into it, and despite being down to 10 men, Jeonbuk’s goal keeper Kuwon saved their ‘mikoos’ with a desperate save in the dying seconds of the match.
Gamba Osaka 3 : FC Seoul 2 (aggregate 6-3) Gamba put FC Seoul out of it’s misery early on in the match as Seoul had an uphill climb to make up for it’s 3-1 home defeat in the first leg. Like last time, Yun Ju-tae scored for Seoul (a brace actually) but too little, too late. A little taste in how the evening went: Seoul was awarded a penalty in the first half, but Molina dragged the shot wide – it wasn’t even close.
Guangzhou Evergrande 2 : 0 Seongnam (aggregate 3-2) The scoreline does little justice to how close the underfunded citizen’s club Seongnam were in upsetting Guangzhou to advance. Seongnam had already beaten the odds by winning against the Chinese giants 2-1 last week. Fast forward to today, Guangzhou used home field to their advantage, including an incredibly soft penalty awarded (Kwak Hae-seong accused of handball -though he was turning away from the shot attempt). Bottom line however: Seongnam had to score an away goal to offset Huang Bowen’s goal last week in Seongnam. And did they have chances – several by my account. Kim Do-Heon had a few excellent chances, and even got one into the net, but disallowed for offsides. A set piece header gave Guangzhou extra cushion -but still razor thing as Seongnam just needed one goal to send the game into extra time. Several shots went wide, goal mouth scrambles – but Guangzhou just held off Seongnam to send them crashing out of the competition.
Jae noted this for the Tavern comment section earlier and it’s worth reprinting:
ACL Quarter Finals has Korean representation both in the East and the West conferences
Jeonbuk Hyundai (K League)
Oh Jae-suk (Gamba Osaka)
Kim Chang-soo (Kashiwa Reysol)
Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande)
Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya)
Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal)
Kwon Kyung-won (Al Ahli Dubai)
Suwon Samsung (K League)
FC Seoul (K League)
Seongnam FC (K League)
Lee Myeong-Joo (Al Ain)
Lee Jung-Soo (Al Sadd)
One last takeaway from the Round of 16 – not only 3 out of 4 K-League clubs crashing out a bell weather for stalled progress in Asia – looking at the stark contrast to the first legs hosted in Korea, these stadiums for 2nd legs in China and Japan were by and large full of supporters.
Just look at the highlights. Take in the atmosphere created. Contrast that to Korea, many of the ACL games weren’t even televised – the stadiums sparsely attended (maybe we’ll give Seongnam a pass, their small stadium ‘kinda’ looked full). Home field advantage? What home field advantage? Koreans couldn’t even get out to support their local Korean clubs when international competition from Japan and China came knocking. You can well imagine the conversations players from the away side incredulous at how pathetic the attendance at Korean stadiums. Is it a coincidence then that K-League sides struggled in the 1st legs despite being at home?
Extra time: the Korea FA Cup 5th round draw is being held soon. We’ll try to update when we can. Stay tuned…