December 5, 2012,
With no midweek games to speak of, the Tavern owner was looking forward to a quiet week to meditate. Just a moment ago, the Tavern Minister of Information rudely interrupted to inform me that an ESPN FC article had mistakenly told readers Ulsan Hyundai Horangi, winners of last month’s Asian Champions League, had been granted a qualifying spot despite a 5th place K-League finish to their season last weekend. Ulsan had in fact, not qualified for next season’s tournament despite the report that the South Korean side made it’s way back next year by way of winning the title in early November. Tragically they cannot defend that title due to very bizarre AFC rules. Even the Champion of Asia must re-qualify by way of a top 4 finish in the K-League or win the Korean FA Cup. Having failed those qualifications on both counts, Ulsan is left only with the consolation prize of competing in next week’s FIFA Club World Cup. The ESPN FC article in question was a preview of this very FIFA Club World Cup, which gave Ulsan a glowing review and predicted a respectible 3rd place finish for the South Korean club.
Despite the error, it is entirely understandable how the writer, Mark Lomas, could come to that seemingly obvious conclusion, one that Tavern earlier made as well. Well, why wouldn’t Ulsan get an automatic berth in next year’s Asian Champions League? After all, Chelsea had* the ability to defend the title by winning the Champions League in May [*past tense as Chelsea just became the first title holder in history to crash out of the Champions League group stage]. And it is Chelsea whom Ulsan may face in the FIFA Club World Cup if they get past Monterrey in the quarterfinals. The Tavern has not repeated posts before, but we’ll make an exception. Last month, it was not certain but merely a possibility that Ulsan would end up in the predicament it is in now. Here’s an excerpt from a Tavern Kickaround musings right after Ulsan’s historic win. To the Tavern Time Machine:
November 13, 2012
…The Tavern speculated on it’s inaugural podcast that Ulsan would not only get an automatic berth to next year’s Asian Champions League, but that by winning it, it may open up another K-League spot in the tournament. The Tavern was wrong -on both counts!
John Duerden of Kick Off Asia confirmed the Tavern’s first incorrect assertion via Twitter:
@johnnyduerden with the win, does the K-League get an additional Asian Champions League spot?
— Roy Ghim (@taeguk_warrior) November 10, 2012
@taeguk_warrior No, I think that Ulsan should be given a chance to defend their title though
— John Duerden (@JohnnyDuerden) November 11, 2012
After berating my Tavern minister of information for the incorrect intel, I finally came to grips with the wack nature of the Asian Football Confederation: Chris Ayres of K-Talk warned me on the podcast that the AFC operates in a strangely different manner. …Now mired 5th in the K-League table, as John Duerden referenced earlier, Ulsan may have the unfortunate distinction of being Champions of Asia without the ability to defend the title next year. The fact the title winner doesn’t automatically qualify runs contrary to the UEFA Champions League model – to which automatic qualification rules dramatically affected the tail end of the English Premier League season. Chelsea ended the season 5th in the table and didn’t have a chance to qualify for the prestigious Champions League, with Tottenham clinching that last coveted 4th position to qualify instead. There was however, that slim sliver of chance that they could beat the odds and win the whole damn tournament; unlike Manchester City and Manchester United who fell by the wayside early on, Chelsea was still in it at that point. So despite the season ending domestically in ignominy, they fought their way past Barcelona in the semis and outlasted Bayern Munich in the finals to be crowned victors of Europe. Tottenham was in complete disbelief; once having qualified through the table position, they instantly found themselves booted into the less glamourous Europa League despite ending the season ahead of Chelsea. You can’t get any better than that for epic football drama.
Any chance of convincing the AFC with changing the rules may have to wait until 2013 when they are set to review their format.
AND NOW BACK TO PRESENT DAY [December 5, 2012]: … the AFC has already ruled on some changes to next seaon’s ACL format in late November, but none that can be applicable to help Ulsan next season.
UPDATE: Both the Tavern and Lex Nande from K-Talk twittered ESPN FC writer Mark Lomas about the slight error. He got back to the us this morning via Twitter:
The Tavern definitely are on the same page with that thought. Lex Nande chimed in:
Salient point. I wonder if the K League could amend their allocation of berths to simply swap out the 4th qualifying team if such a sitauation occured again in the future. Anway, ESPN FC article has been amended, job well done and high fives all around! The Tavern Minister of Information, despite interrupting my meditation session, will be duely rewarded…after I finally finish my f#)$^&! mediation!
Lex just updated K-Talk with the latest on the draw for the upcoming AFC Asian Champions League group stages, you can check that out here. Meanwhile Mark Lomas’ preview of the FIFA Club World Cup in ESPN FC can be found here.