Suggestions and concerns for AFC Asian Cup 2011

Former South Korea coach Pim Verbeek has suggested to the Asian Football Confederation that it should never again run its prestigious Asian Cup in multiple countries. The 2007 event was conducted in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. "It's not up to me to make the final report but if I can make a small suggestion, I don't think we should do it again because of the traveling, the organisation. It's tough. It's very hard for the players. You spend 13, 14 hours on the way [to a match], I've heard Japan spent even longer. You have different climates, different circumstances, different food. It was not an easy tournament, at all, for all the teams," he said.

AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam has already announced that the next Asian Cup's next venue in 2011 will be Qatar, one of the Arabian Gulf states. The tournament will be held in January with the only other official FIFA window available, in July, too hot in the Gulf region, meaning European-based players will be asked to leave their clubs mid-season for three weeks to take part. But Hammam doesn’t see any club versus country conflicts given January is a designated FIFA time to hold such competitions. “July is the hot season in Qatar and the organisation of the tournament cannot happen then so it will be January and we are protected by the international calendar,” he said.

Qatar, which successfully held the Asian Games in Doha last December, has played host to the Asian Cup in 1988 when it was won by Saudi Arabia. A key concern is whether the small country can drum up enough fans to fill stadia after the Asian Games experience where most grounds were empty. Hammam said it was an area that will have AFC focus. “Yes, it is a concern but Qatar, although small, is surrounded by its neighbours from the Gulf where there is a huge population,” he said. “To reach Doha is not a problem. You can reach it by road, there are hundreds of flights every day. It is a concern but we will work hard to overcome it.”

“I will promise you now that the Asian Cup in the future will be different to what you have seen in the past, in terms of organisation, popularity and standards,” he said. “This is my promise to you because this is what I am devoting my time to and what I have been elected to do. This tournament ... we have spent a lot of time and efforts on infrastructure problems in the venues. We have not given enough attention to the promotion of the competition which is very important. Qatar’s infrastructure is already excellent so I don’t think we will have any problems there. We are only going to focus on how to promote the competition and how to make the organisation more professional,” he told media.

But sports journalists Shintaro Kano of the Daily Yomiuri remains concerned that a January 2011 event "will mean the qualifiers will have to be crammed into the five months following the 2010 World Cup. Asia's best players who are based in Europe will be right in the middle of their seasons, while for the J.League, January is the precious off-season. It was struggle enough to get European clubs to release their players during the close season, so how the national associations will convince the clubs when the season is in full swing will be interesting ... Clearly, the AFC's intentions of trying to raise the Asian game are good. Its planning, however, does not seem to be so good," he commented.

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