Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate
soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.
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Controversy in the AFC Women's Asian Cup semis - and a 2010 World Cup snippet
Dear, dear readers. I have so much to tell you and so little time. Where
Well the heading promises you a 2010 World Cup snippet so I won't tease
you by leaving it until the end of the column.
Yesterday, I was able to attend a media conference featuring John O'Neill,
Chief Executive of Football Federation Australia, and Mohamed bin Hammam,
President of the Asian Football Confederation.
I asked the AFC boss the following question, "Before the World Cup, Asia
was talking about pushing for extra places at the tournament (the
confederation currently has 4.5). After 3 Asian teams finished bottom of
their groups, do you think that's now an unrealistic goal?"
He replied by saying, "Even before the World Cup it was very clear that we
are aiming for 4.5 seats for 2010 and also during the World Cup, through
our performances in 2006, I think 4.5 seats will be, very much, the
realistic number of seats for Asia."
I didn't hear of any Asian football heavyweights settling on a target of
4.5 spots for the 2010 World Cup before the 2006 finals kicked off. (If
you did, please email me with the details.) Last October, Peter Velappan
(AFC General Secretary) said, "FIFA knows when we sit down next year to
talk about 2010, we will be asking for an extra seat."
My country is now a member of AFC so I obviously hope it does well in the
allocation of places at the World Cup finals. But Asia's performance in
Germany shows that extra slots for the confederation aren't merited. And
with the AFC President virtually conceding that anything more than 4.5
spots will be unrealistic, you can assume, quite safely, that Asia's
allocation for 2010 won't be increased.
Mind you, I don't think it should be decreased either. For 2006, Asia had
4.5 places without Australia being a member of the confederation. Now,
with the Socceroos participating in AFC's qualifiers for 2010, there will
be more competition for the same number of slots.
Allocation of slots is a subject worthy of its own column (perhaps
several) but this little crumb of information gives us an early piece in
the jigsaw. The AFC's approach looks likely to be: what we have, we hold.
Thursday's AFC Women's Asian Cup action saw upsets in two action-packed
semi-finals with the North Korea v China match also ending in controversy.
In my last piece I talked briefly about the history of North Korea v China
in the women's game but I made an error by saying that this semi-final
would be their sixth meeting in either an Asian semi-final or Final. There
had, in fact, been six already. Below is the full list of results (in this
competition) between the two teams:
1989 Group match China 4-1
1991 Semi-final China 1-0
1993 Group match Draw 1-1
1993 Final China 3-0
1997 Group match China 3-1
1997 Final China 2-0
1999 Semi-final China 3-0
2001 Semi-final North Korea 3-1
2003 Final North Korea 2-1 (asdet)
You can see that, in recent years, the North Koreans ended a long run of
failures against China and, after winning Group B, they were favoured to
win Thursday night's clash.
Backed by a large and vocal group of supporters, the Chinese were more
aggressive in a high-paced opening. As teams so often do, China found an
extra gear at the business end of the tournament.
But the best early chance fell to North Korea. A great move in the 10th
minute involving Pak Kyong Sun, captain Ri Kum Suk, and Jo Yun Mi gave
midfielder Kim Than Sil a good opportunity but she hesitated and her shot
Ri Kum Suk is an outstanding forward with fantastic touch and Jo Yun Mi
was also excellent on the left of midfield. The Korean players were sharp
and not afraid of taking opponents on.
Nevertheless, China had three decent chances in the first half. A 17th
minute shot on the turn by Ma Xiaoxu sailed over the bar; Ren Liping
rattled the crossbar in the 25th minute from a direct free kick just
outside the penalty area; and in the 31st minute, a defensive ricochet
fell kindly for Zhang Tong but she shot straight at Korean 'keeper Han Hye
Yong. Xiaoxu is clearly the player that China relies on in attack.
The North Koreans dominated the last 15 minutes of the first half. In the
33rd minute, a swerving free kick by Ri Kum Suk forced a fine save from
Han Wenxia in China's goal. Eight minutes later, a wonderful through ball
by Ri Kum Suk gave Ri Un Gyong a golden opportunity but the midfielder
sprayed her shot wide.
Just before half time, right-back Song Jung Sun crossed brilliantly but
Pak Kyong Sun, an ineffective strike partner to Ri Kum Suk, sent her
header straight to Han Wenxia.
North Korea is a great team to watch. It isn't just a hard-running team as
its players are capable of intricate moves. But despite sustained periods
of Korean pressure, the half time score was 0-0.
After half time, the Koreans made two substitutions and one of the
changes, predictably, was to bring Kim Yong Ae on in place of Pak Kyong
Sun. Kim Yong Ae also came on as a substitute against South Korea and she
scored the only goal of that game.
I would not have believed it possible, but the pace actually lifted in the
second half. These teams' rivalry means so much to the players and an
excited crowd added to the intensity of the occasion.
Again China started brightly and in the 47th minute Zhang Tong shot wide
after more great work from Ma Xiaoxu.
North Korea roared back. The Koreans could be sharper in attack but it
takes a lot of energy to keep them out as they just refuse to pass the
ball around at the back. They just want to keep pushing forward and they
were nearly rewarded in the 56th minute when a great cross by defender Ho
Sun Hui was flicked narrowly wide by Kim Yong Ae.
But only three minutes later, the deadlock was broken by the Steel Roses.
Midfielder Bi Yan got to the goal line and crossed superbly from the left
and Ma Xiaoxu (who else?) headed home beautifully. 1-0 to China.
China wouldn't create any more chances because in the last half hour,
North Korea unleashed a fury.
In the 65th minute, Ri Kum Suk headed wide after China struggled to clear
a corner and four minutes later Kim Yong Ae cleverly made a chance after
confusion in the Chinese defence. She flicked her shot just over the bar.
Ri Un Gyong flashed a shot wide in the 81st minute and Ho Sun Hui was
again involved up forward with a shot from long range only minutes later.
Still no reward. Somehow China's defence was withstanding the siege and
captain Pu Wei was marshalling it magnificently.
Sadly China also indulged in some ultra-cynical play in the closing stages
of the game. The tournament had mercifully seen little of that sort of
nonsense until now but two Chinese players, on seeing that they were about
to be substituted, collapsed to the ground, rolled around, and got
themselves carried off on stretchers. Largely because of this, the referee
allowed nearly eight minutes of stoppage time - and rightly so (the board
on the touch line suggested that only five minutes needed to be played).
You rarely see a player that has come on as a substitute getting
substituted but, bizarrely, Kim Yong Ae was pulled off in the 88th minute
and replaced with another forward, Jong Pok Sim. Why would you pull off a
relatively fresh forward - and your team's last goal scorer - when you
need a goal in the dying minutes? The pace that Kim Yong Ae sprinted to
the touch line with suggested that she certainly wasn't injured.
There was still enough time for an amazing miss by Ri Un Gyong when she
shot straight at the 'keeper with the goal at her mercy and then, six
minutes into injury time, North Korea finally found the back of the net
from a penalty box scramble.
The Koreans celebrated and I strained to see who the scorer was (I still
don't know). But the assistant referee had flagged for offside and was
standing just a few metres from the corner flag. The goal was disallowed.
I didn't have a good view of the offside as I was sitting in line with the
halfway line. My first reaction was that it was probably an incorrect call
but it was hard to tell because there were so many bodies in the box.
North Korea's players were in no doubt - the officials were wrong, wrong,
wrong. And when the final whistle blew, pandemonium ensued.
Korean goalkeeper Han Hye Yong pushed the referee and was shown a red
card. Other angry players also tried to confront the referee and her
assistants. Police raced on to the pitch to escort the officials to the
tunnel but the Korean team was still chasing them and also threw bottles
of water at them.
Some Chinese fans, just above the players' tunnel, got in on the act and
threw bottles at the North Koreans (whose bench and coaching staff were
also involved in the fracas) and the players then started throwing those
bottles back at the crowd. There were at least a couple of minutes of
The Koreans stayed on the pitch for about ten minutes (they were probably
prevented from leaving) and at the beginning of the post-match media
conference, the AFC's media and communications director explained that the
Koreans were not allowed to attend because of the incidents after the game
and that those incidents would be referred to the AFC's disciplinary
After the review of the video and the report of the match commissioner,
three of North Korea's players were suspended for the match for third
place - Han Hye Yong (who had already been red carded) and defenders Song
Jong Sun and Sonu Kyong Sun. The third place match will now decide Asia's
last direct qualification place for the Women's World Cup and losing Sonu,
a solid defender, will really handicap the team.
Still, the North Koreans are lucky to be playing in the third place match.
As I watched the extraordinary post-match scenes, I even wondered if they
might be thrown out of the tournament. There may be further penalties to
individuals but at yesterday's media conference Mohamed bin Hammam all but
ruled out any punishment for the team.
Until the fracas, I had felt some sympathy for the Koreans. They gave the
game so much energy and dominated most of the play. They ran into a
Chinese team that was inspired, well organised and good enough to keep
You cannot excuse what happened after the final whistle. You mustn't,
under any circumstances, threaten the safety of match officials (not even
Graham Poll). If there are no further punishments to the offending
players, they should count themselves lucky.
Indeed, the referee (Anna De Toni of Italy) did the right thing by the
Koreans by playing so much stoppage time. And she relied on her assistant
for the offside call (which may have been correct). What's wrong with
The earlier semi-final had no controversy but plenty of action. There was
no cautious beginning and no strategic chess game. Australia and Japan
played with attacking intent from kick off.
Both sides threatened in the first 90 seconds and midfielder Aya Miyama
had a long-range shot for Japan.
In a frenetic opening, attacking midfielder Shinobu Ohno looked tricky and
capable of strong runs for Japan, and Sarah Walsh was powerful up forward
In the 9th minute, the Matildas went ahead when midfielder Sally Shipard
set up outstanding forward Caitlin Munoz to stab the ball into the back of
the net. Australia had switched from a 4-3-3 formation to 4-4-2 for this
match but the 2 (Walsh and Munoz) have plenty of experience together and
they adjusted well.
Japan has a real weakness in goals and a cross spilled by 'keeper Miho
Fukumoto gave Shipard the chance to double Australia's lead in the 11th
minute. Her shot was wide.
The speed of the game did not slow and Japan hit back with a shot from
Ohno in the 12th minute. Then, after a free kick and two corners,
right-back Kozue Ando also shot wide.
The Japanese players were technically a little better than Australia's - a
fact that Australian coach Tom Sermanni conceded after the match - so the
Matildas were quite direct and they tried to exploit their height
Nevertheless, Australia's next attacking move was all along the ground. A
glorious through ball by Munoz allowed Sarah Walsh to shoot but her effort
After half an hour, the pace finally slowed a bit and both teams battled
for control in midfield. Miyama had another speculative shot in the 33rd
minute and, with Australia's Di Alagich marking dangerous midfielder
Homare Sawa tightly, Miyama seemed to be the only Japanese player with any
The Blues had their best chance in the 37th minute when lone striker Yuki
Nagasato (yeah, 4-5-1 here too...) latched on to a great through ball from
the busy Ohno, but Nagasato's shot flew over the bar. She should have done
The teams then traded chances again. In the 40th minute, a shot by the
influential Shipard was blocked and the rebound fell to Walsh who blazed
over the bar. At the other end, three minutes later, a free kick by
midfielder Miyuki Yanagita created some panic in the Australian penalty
Just when it seemed that 1-0 would be the half time score, another howler
by Japanese 'keeper Fukumoto handed Australia a second goal. A corner was
dropped by Fukumoto, a scramble resulted, and midfielder Jo Peters stabbed
the ball home.
Facing a two-goal deficit, Japan applied all the pressure in the first
five minutes of the second half but Australia's central defensive
partnership of Thea Slatyer and captain Cheryl Salisbury looked
comfortable. The Matildas' defence simply wouldn't yield.
A knee injury to Slatyer forced her off the field in the 61st minute and,
at the post-match media conference, Tom Sermanni said that he doubted that
she'd be able to play in the Final - a big blow for the Aussies.
The pushing into attack of the Japanese players meant that Australia might
catch them on the break and, in the 59th minute, Munoz nearly made it 3-0
after Sarah Walsh carried the ball from one penalty box to the other.
Four minutes later, Ohno made yet another strong run but she shot straight
into the arms of Aussie 'keeper Melissa Barbieri.
After her terrific dash from defence to attack, Walsh was substituted. It
was a good move by Sermanni because she'd run herself into the ground and
her replacement, Lisa De Vanna, is tricky and quick. With her first
action, De Vanna broke down the left and crossed for Collette McCallum but
the midfielder couldn't add to Australia's lead.
Japan's last chance came in the 86th minute. A great lay off by Sawa, free
of Di Alagich for once, allowed Ohno to shoot but her effort was wide. The
second half had been extremely entertaining - even though there had been
few chances. If you gave me the choice of watching a replay of either of
these semi-finals or a live men's international between Paraguay and
Portugal, I'd opt for one of the women's semis.
After the final whistle, the Australian players celebrated like a team
that had qualified for the World Cup because ... well ... they had. The
players' dressing rooms at Adelaide's Hindmarsh Stadium are next to the
room that media conferences are being held in and, while Hiroshi Ohashi
(the Japanese coach) spoke to the media, celebratory screams could be
heard from the Matildas' rooms.
Tomorrow, China and Australia, both underdogs before the semi-finals, will
meet in the Final of the AFC Women's Asian Cup. Before that, North Korea
and Japan will play for third place and, more importantly, the last direct
qualification spot for the Women's World Cup. (The loser of the North
Korea v Japan match will, however, get a second chance at qualifying by
playing off against the team that finishes third in CONCACAF.)
Who can predict these games? North Korea would normally be the favourite
against Japan but the Koreans will be missing their first-choice
goalkeeper and two first-choice defenders. (And can they bounce back after
all that drama?)
Can Australia win its first Asian title, just seven months after
officially joining the confederation? Or will China reclaim the tournament
that it ruled from 1986 to 1999?
I can't wait to find out. I'm enjoying this tournament even more than I
thought I would.
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