Given that it’s been such a big week for cup competitions- semi-finals of both the English and French League Cups, quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey and Copa Italia, as well as the conclusion of the AFCON group stage- I thought it was apt to begin my own Lost Boyos Top 5s with five Random Tournaments.
If you missed Matt’s first entry in this series, we’re looking back on five years of blogging by counting down our Top 5s across various different categories. I’ve chosen to start with Random Tournaments because, the fortunate timing aside, who doesn’t love cup football?
During my time watching football in Asia, I’ve been lucky enough to see various wonderful football tournaments, like the cup finals of both Thailand and Vietnam. Also in South-east Asia, one of the most exciting games I’ve witnessed was Boeung Ket Angkor’s 3-2 win over Becamex Bình Dương in the semi-finals of the Toyota Mekong Club Championship, a tournament pitting the national champions of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam against one another (it was all also when I first came across the brilliant Chan Vathanaka, who scored all three of his former side’s goals). None of these, however, make the final list.
Neither do the FIFA World U17 Cup nor the now sadly extinct Peace Cup. I saw five games at the 2007 U17 World Cup in South Korea, but that tournament pre-dates the start of this blog so can’t be included (it’s perhaps also a stretch to bracket a World Cup in the ‘random’ category- although it can be done; see below). Anybody who’s talked football with me for longer than 30 minutes will no doubt have been bored by my stories of twice watching Toni Kroos and what a wonderful player he was in that tournament (FIFA agreed, giving him the Golden Ball). David de Gea was among the other future stars I saw, but he couldn’t prevent Spain losing the final to Nigeria on penalties.
My first Peace Cup also pre-dates Lost Boyos. Back in 2005, Robbie Keane hit a brace in the final to help Spurs to the title. Spurs had reached that final by topping a group featuring Boca Juniors, Mamelodi Sundowns, and Real Sociedad. Their opponents were Lyon, whose group had included PSV, Once Caldas, and hosts Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. Lyon, despite their teen-aged strike force of Karin Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa, lost 3-1. Lyon returned to South Korea to win the 2007 edition, while Aston Villa claimed the 2009 title, which bizarrely took place in Spain and included, among others, Juventus and Real Madrid.
I next attended in 2012, a reduced tournament that featured only HSV, Sunderland, FC Groningen, and, as usual, Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. I saw three of the four games with HSV winning out in the end. That was the last Peace Cup, the Unification Church withdrawing funding after the death of its founder, Reverend Sun Myung Moon. It’s also possible they blew their entire budget on the greatest trophy presentation ever.
That 2012 edition featured only briefly on the pages off Lost Boyos in an end of season round-up, so the Peace Cup also misses out. Here, finally, are my Top 5 Random Tournaments.
5. AFC Champions League
Like a World Cup, labelling a continental club championship as ‘random’ seems inappropriate. However, the way Asian (or more specifically Chinese) football has been discussed in Western media in recent times, it may surprise many that there is a competitive and often compelling tournament taking place in the East.
My first experience was FC Seoul’s 2011 campaign when I saw their home games against Nagoya Grampus Eight, managed by Dragan Stojkovic, and Al Ain. In 2014, FC Seoul made it all the way to final. Along the road to that final I got to see Fredi Kanoute playing for Beijing Guoan and JLoyd Samuel playing in midfield for Iranian side Esteghal. Sadly I missed the home leg of the final against Marcelo Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande.
The following season I got to see Yokohama F Marinos host Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at Nissan Stadium, venue for the 2002 World Cup Final, while in 2016 I saw Hà Nội T&T defeat Hong Kong’s Kitchee in the play-off round, and then returned to Seoul for a semi-final second leg against Jeonbuk later in the year.
Unfortunately, Hà Nội FC (they’ve now dropped the T&T) lost to the same opposition at the same stage this year. Thankfully, however, they’ll now be playing in the AFC Cup, Asia’s Europa League equivalent, and I can’t wait!
4. FIFA Futsal World Cup 2012
I already knew, more or less, what futsal was before this tournament, but really had no idea how big or brilliant the game is.
My wife was studying in Bangkok in the autumn of 2012 and I was going to visit her. While looking for ways to entertain myself while she was working hard, I came across the Futsal World Cup which was being held in the city. When tickets were released, I purchased four double-headers and would get to see the hosts, as well as futsal big guns Italy and Spain (though sadly not Brazil).
Although I skipped one of the double-headers to attend the Thai FA Cup Final, I had a great time. The Thai fans were immense, the games were exciting and there was a first Lost Boyos appearance for Kazuyoshi Maura (more on him in a later Top 5), who Japan had brought along to make up the numbers.
Vietnam qualified for the 2016 edition- the first time the country had qualified for any FIFA finals tournament- so I got to see a good chunk of the most recent version on TV, too. It’s a great tournament and I urge you to go along if you find yourself nearby.
3. AFF U19 Championship
I can’t remember when I first read that this 11-team tournament was being held in Hanoi, but I know I was excited.
Part of the reason for my excitement was that my weekend pattern had just switched to Monday-Tuesday- far from ideal for attending football matches- but here was a tournament featuring 29 matches across just two weeks being played on my doorstep.
I got to five of those games and saw an amazing 23 goals (or 4.6 goals per game, slightly up on the tournament average of 4.07!). Australia put five past Vietnam in the semi-final and a further five past Thailand in the final. However, Thailand’s fans, just as when I’d witnessed them at the Futsal World Cup, were brilliant. So too was much of the action on the field, and, while I didn’t see the next Toni Kroos, the tournament certainly suggested a healthy future for South-east Asian football.
For the hosts, the heavy semi-final defeat was a disappointment, but their youngsters underlined their potential the following month by going further than both Thailand and Australia at the AFC U19 Championship in Bahrain. Again, they reached the semi-finals, this time losing to Japan, but by then they had already become the first Vietnamese team to reach any FIFA 11-a-side tournament and will participate in the U20 World Cup that takes place in South Korea later this year (another tournament I hope to attend).
2. 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup
Lost in… East Asia
The EAFF East Asian Cup is a biennial tournament between the ten member nations of the East Asian Football Federation. In late 2012, Australia topped a qualifying group containing North Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and Guam to qualify for the following year’s tournament proper.
There, they were joined by Japan, China, and hosts South Korea. The tournament had somehow passed me by when it was previously held in the country in 2005, but in 2013 I got to four of the six men’s matches (but sadly none of the women’s).
Japan were the eventual winners of a tournament that gave international starts to many who are now (or who have been) regulars for their country, like Huddersfield Town’s Aaron Mooy, who scored a spectacular goal when Australia faced China in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium.
That was one of two new grounds for me in what was a busy, but fun week of football watching.
1. Korea National League Championship
Lost in… Yanggu
Imagine taking half the teams in League One, housing them all in a small town near the Scottish border- let’s say Blyth- and getting them all to play a two-week long tournament, and then you’d have something similar to the Korea National League Championship.
The tournament moved around South Korea before settling in recent years on the town of Yanggu, not too far from the border with North Korea. I was there for the opening matches of the 2012 edition when there were shock wins for Daejeon Hydro & Nuclear Power and Yongin City over Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard Dolphin and the National Police respectively.
A year later, I again took a bus through the picturesque Korean countryside for the final between Incheon Korail and Cheonan City, the railwaymen taking the trophy home with a resounding 6-0 victory.
Since UEFA withdrew the Cup Winners’ Cup, the National League Championship is probably the greatest tournament in the world!