November 29, 2012
With Real Madrid looming for the winning side in today’s decisive Copa del Rey knockout match, Park Chu-Young and Celta Vigo not only had to beat LaLiga2 side Almeria, but had the additional challenge of coming up with 3 goals to make up for an earlier 2-0 aggregate loss several weeks ago. After a tense 1st half ended with no goals, Park Chu-Young snuck in between 2 defenders and headed in the first goal for Celta Vigo in the 55th minute with a lovely cross from De Lucas.
I have to admit I got home (from my actual paid job / as opposed to Tavern owner) right as regulation ended to discover that Roberto Lago got the death defying last gasp goal 60 seconds before the end of the stoppage time. That was the aggregate equalizer they needed to stay alive, delivering Celta into extra time. In the 109th minute of competition, De Lucas executed the final blow as he rounded Almeria’s keeper and got an odd angled shot successfully into the far post corner net. Celta Vigo won (3-2 aggregate) and will now advance to the round of 16 in the tournament. They will get to host Real Madrid at the Baliados in Vigo on or about December 12th. The defense kept a clean sheet, 3 different members of the squad scored -it was indeed a total team effort that led to a well deserved victory. Park has now contributed 3 goals to Celta Vigo (2 in regular La Liga competition). Note: While Celta Vigo has never won the trophy, they were 3 times runner ups in the tournament. In most recent times, they were in the final match of the Copa del Rey cup tournament in 2001, where they lost 3-1 eventually to Real Zaragoza.
Lee Keun-Ho is your winner for AFC’s 2012 Player of the Year award. He was on hand to accept the award at AFC’s annual ceremony last night in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Lee, who was also named 2012 Asian Champions League MVP, was the clear choice based on his extraordinary performance in helping to deliver a decisive Asian Champions League title for Ulsan Hyundai. The ceremony marked a change in the award format; as John Duerden pointed out in his piece for ESPN FC, Park Ji-Sung has never won the award, even as the AFC wanted to hand it to him in years past. The reason: he and other potential Asian winners had to show up in late November all the way to Kuala Lampur to attend the awards ceremony in person. Park’s location when he was with Manchester United for several years, just was too much of a burden to fly all that distance in the middle of the busy season. To address that problem, for the first time, the AFC gave out a separate award, the Asian International Player of the Year, which went to Shinji Kagawa. John pointed out an odd thing about the selection process on said award: “The only gripe about the shortlist that contains Shinji Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo and Mark Schwarzer is that it is just a little short.” 3 candidates? Really? UPDATE: reviewing the ceremony, made extravagantly to look like the Asian equivalent to the Academy Awards, the entire ceremony was conducted in English, at times quite painfully. Lee, going up to accept his award, looked extremely uncomfortable, and delivered a broken english scripted speech that included some audible dry gulps. To his credit, he really did try his best. A yellow card goes to the AFC – for not allowing any Asian languages to be utilized by the players’ and coaches’ native tongues.
Lee’s time is up and he must now join the South Korean military -that is, to play football for the army’s Sangju team for 2 years. Sangju, along with Gwangju FC, holds the distinction as the first 2 clubs to be relegated in K-League history. They will be part of a limited K-League division 2 next season. There it is folks, Lee Keun-Ho, your Asian Player of the Year winner, mired in a relegated army team in K-League’s lower division next season. Remarkable rules of conscription in South Korea that allowed a player of his calibre to be in that position. He was originally scheduled to join the army on December 10th. However, thanks to Ulsan Hyundai winning the Asian Champions League, they are set to play in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Club World Cup on December 9th with Monterrey. It looks as if Lee will be granted a 2 week exemption to participate in the tournament. If Ulsan can get past Monterrey, they have quite the gauntlet next in Chelsea, last year’s UEFA Champions League title holders.
Lee spoke to the press after the awards ceremony, exclaiming he has no regrets for entering military service despite offers play in top flight European football. This excerpt is from NDTV.com: When asked about joining a European team, Lee said “definitely not now” but he admitted it would be a “dream” for any player.
“I (would) prefer to play in Europe. Anywhere I will be is fine as long as I can play in Europe” -Lee Keun-Ho on Thursday night.
That optimistic outlook betrayed what Lee probably already knows: his deferred dream of going to Europe looks unlikely given his age (28 years old now) and that he might not be in competitive form 2 years from now, especially given the permanent relegated status of the Sangju army team.
Moving on, a few more accolades were bestowed on Koreans last night, including last summer’s Taeguk Warriors Olympic Bronze Medal winning side named as the AFC Asian Men’s Team of the Year, and Ulsan Hyundai winning AFC Club of the Year.
You just can’t have an awards ceremony without someone throwing a fit. This time it was only FIFA’s Vice President, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein. Wait, the FIFA VP? He snubbed the awards ceremony in protest of the number of qualifying Asian countries for next year’s Asian Champions League. The Tavern’s minister of information has looked into the matter and reported back to me: apparently the Prince has some legit arguments. In an interview with the World Game publication, he advocated for wider participation in the tournament, “I have long argued for a more open and inclusive Asian Champions League in order to give a fair chance to all teams to play on sporting merit.
“Unfortunately, the proposal supported by clubs, leagues… which gives a chance to the following countries, Vietnam, Singapore, India and Jordan to participate through a play-off match was overruled first by the competitions committee in yesterday’s meeting and today by the Executive Committee.”
Next year’s Asian Champions League has given spots to Iran, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Thailand, Japan, China, South Korea and Australia. Even then, the AFC has angered some of these countries by taking away some qualifying spots. Australia went from 4 teams last year to 2 teams being able to qualify for spots next year. Uzbekistan lost 1 spot and now holds onto 3 spots for next year. The Tavern has previously argued that with all the recent spate of Asian Champion League titles, South Korea should be given more qualifying spots than their counterpart countries on their overall strength in competition. The AFC meeting yesterday sort of took that into consideration and South Korea expanded from 3.5 spots to 4 spots – and yet China, which didn’t exactly stagger the football imagination based on last year’s performances, inexplicably have retained all 4 spots for next year.
Not to end on a bummer note: CNN put out a list of 75 Amazing Sports Moments You Missed This Year. Among them: South Korea’s quarterfinal victory over Great Britain. The photo that accompanied the moment included an exuberantly physical photo of Ji Dong-Won and Jung Sung-Ryong playing keep away from Micah Richards.
Looking ahead: On Friday, Cha Du-Ri might make an appearance for Fortuna Dusseldorf in their match against Eintracht Frankfurt. Start time 2:30 pm EST. We’ll have another post concerning further weekend matches, including Arsenal vs Swansea at Emirates Stadium on Saturday: the way things have been going for Ki Sung-Yeung, he’s due for a goal. Been a busy and fruitful week for Koreans playing in Europe this midweek. Time for a bit of rest. Tavern closed for the evening, good night!
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