2002/03 – BEC Tero slay East Asian giants
Group A’s status as the Group of Death was earned because of the names Kashima Antlers, Shanghai Shenhua and Daejon Citizen. Then there was also Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana, who were expected to be the whipping boys of the group.
However, the final script was something quite different. BEC, led by that year’s AFC Player of the Year nominee Therdsak Chaiman, stunned the East Asians to top the group with seven points from three matches – one more than Koreans Daejon – to reach the semi-finals.
The Thais did not stop there, going on to the final, where they were beaten 2-1 by UAE’s Al Ain.
Not sure which thread this applies to? But I read this and thought it was amazing, a SEA club making it to the ACL final. Normally you associate Saudi, Korean or J-League clubs with such feats, but not from this region I've never seen them advance deep. Never seen them advance from the GS, even.
I think Thai teams have been fairly strong historically in Asian competitions, but with the huge influx of money into the K-League, J-League, and Arab countries in the past few years this has diminished.
(Upon further research I found that a team called Thai Farmers Bank won the Asian Club Championship - the previous version of the ACL) two times in a row in 1994 and 1995, but other than that the current trends have pretty much been followed.)
Also, I have a question, what do people make of this ranking system for international competitions that seems pretty unique to the AFC? A system that does not just rank nations on their team's performances but also on the country's infrastructure, level of professionalism, marketability, finances, etc. Eg, Syria had a team make it to the finals of the ACL not too long ago but because of this system their teams now have to play in the second tier AFC Cup, whereas India, with the rise of the new I-League (anyone know anything about that, by the way?) now has the possibility for a team to qualify for the ACL through preliminary rounds, whereas before it didn't. This also ties nicely into the Thai thing, as even though Thai teams have historically performed well, they now have to qualify through preliminaries.
While the system seems a little ambiguous and not as clear-cut as say the UEFA Coefficients (though one could make the argument this is not the case
), I think it can bring great reward to those countries that emphasize grassroots football and building from the ground up in a continent that has a lot of untapped potential, but at the same time does not have a huge soccer/football tradition. Btw, for those who want to know the rankings for ACL qualification, here are this year's:
And the very last thing I want to bring up (I know, it's a lot), but tied to the previous is what are people's opinions of the multi-tied international competitions? Ie, in club football besides the ACL there is the AFC Cup and the third-tier President's Cup, and to move in between the tiers, countries have to meet certain requirements. In NT football besides the Asian Cup there is the Challenge Cup (every two years) for "developing" nations and the winners of the past two (in 2008 it was India and 2010 TBD
this February) get automatic spots in the Asian Cup. I think this is an innovative system and although it does not necessarily give everyone an even playing field, I think it is an incentive for smaller countries to put in the time and resources in domestic football, especially with the Challenge Cup rewarding an Asian Cup spot.