Sports Thailand

World Cup bids, England, and the (apparently) cancelled Thailand friendly


As you’re probably aware, the 2018 and 2022 World Cup host countries were announced on Thursday. Russia won 2018 and Qatar was awarded 2022. There are many fascinating issues to discuss, but given the focus of this blog, I wanted to zero in on one interesting element: the Thailand connection.

Some background: Prior to the vote, much of the Western European media echoed the notion that the front runners for 2018 were Spain/Portugal (home of the scintillating world champions, Spain) and England (home of robust infrastructure and the world’s most popular domestic league).

But Russia — considered by some to be an outsider — won, of course. This may not have been as big an upset as it seems, but it was still surprising to many observers. It’s worth noting that, as I understand it, many within Russia considered their bid to be the strongest all along, chiefly because the World Cup has never been held in Eastern Europe.

The process by which World Cup bids are awarded has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years. Here’s how it works: A 24-man panel — the FIFA executive committee — decides, behind closed doors, which countries will be allowed to host the world’s most-watched sporting event.

Votes are secret, and are cast in an exhaustive ballot system, with several rounds of voting until a winner receives a majority. There is no official transparency, though reports usually emerge, afterward, regarding who voted for which countries.

Allegations of corruption — the idea that votes are bought — have been raised in the past. And significantly, just before this year’s winners were announced, the BBC program Panorama ran a show called “Fifa’s dirty secrets.” So the selection process is murky, confusing, and said to be tainted by back room deals.

On to the Siam connection: Thailand’s Worawi Makudi sits on the FIFA Executive Committee. Competing countries are often thought to secure votes by courting — legally — the loyalty of individual committee members.

In May, England’s Football Association (the FA) announced that the national side would be playing a friendly here in Bangkok in June 2011 — a first-ever meeting between England and Thailand. This remarkable match, combined with the fact that British coaches Peter Reid and now Bryan Robson have coached the Thai national team, have been seen as efforts to curry favor with Thailand in order to secure the vote for England’s 2018 bid.

The England-Thailand game would have drawn a large crowd given the great popularity of the English Premier League among Thai fans and would have presumably been commercially lucrative. But it would have exacted a physical toll on the Three Lions’ players given the long flights in each direction.

So what happened on Thursday?

England finished dead last, receiving just two votes, one of which came from their own representative. The other vote? It didn’t come from Thailand’s Worawi. It’s unclear who he voted for, but it apparently wasn’t England.

The fallout: The Telegraph reported yesterday that England has cancelled the Thailand friendly. Mind you, the story says the FA had received indications some time ago that Worawi wouldn’t be voting for England, so one wonders how much of a shock this really was.

In addition, a word of warning regarding sources: The Telegraph story says that “the FA intends to cancel the fixture,” but there is so far no news of this on the the FA Web site. However, the match is not listed on the fixtures page, though this may be due to the fact that it is — was? — a friendly, not a competitive game.

The Bangkok Post also ran a short piece about the possibly cancelled fixture, but it appears to be merely a summary of the Telegraph story.

For the record, I am not suggesting that anything inappropriate occurred between England’s FA and Thailand or Worawi. But I think the episode illustrates the kind of efforts that FAs undertake to try to secure the backing of executive committee members — and just how tricky and unpredictable the voting process can be.

Issues for another post: Qatar‘s winning 2022 bid (the country’s population is estimated at 840,000, and it covers an area about the size of Connecticut); the prospect of a winter World Cup and/or cooled, open-aired, “carbon neutral” stadiums (don’t miss the artist renderings) to beat the heat; and the U.S.’s failed 2022 bid.


World Cup: USA beats Algeria in injury time


I’ve been busy — and won’t be blogging much in the days to come — but given my previous posts, I felt compelled to comment on yesterday’s breathtaking U.S. win over Algeria in injury time. A few thoughts.

  1. I watched the game with some friends at an English pub here in Bangkok. The England-Slovenia game was on in the main bar area, and the US-Algeria game was on in a separate room.

    I cannot describe the anguish I felt when England went a goal up, and when the US continued to miss chance after chance after chance. If England had won, and the US had tied or lost, our World Cup campaign would have been over. To make matters worse, another seemingly good goal was called back that should not have been called back.

    And then, when all seemed lost, finally — finally — in injury time, when I must admit I thought we were finished, Landon Donovan slotted home:

  2. Speaking of which, Donovan has really shown his quality in this tournament. To get down the length of the pitch and be there, at the right moment, after playing hard for 90 minutes, and then to have the focus to score a goal like that…well, it’s just top-notch. Michael Bradley has also been exceptional in midfield. As so has Tim Howard in goal. Clint Dempsey has been very good going forward, as well.
  3. In terms of US soccer successes, the only other American victory that I can compare this to in my lifetime ((Yes, the U.S. team made it to the quarterfinals in 2002, but yesterday’s win was more dramatic.)) was Paul Caliguiri’s goal against Trinidad and Tobago in 1989. The U.S. qualified for the 1990 World Cup — the U.S.’s first World Cup appearance since 1950 — because of that long-distance effort.

    When I watched that game, as a 14-year-old, I was simply astounded by the outcome. And I was similarly astounded — and so, so happy — when the U.S. team won last night.

  4. And finally, let me ask you this: When the World Cup draw was announced many months ago, who would have predicted that Group C would end up like this?

Up next: Ghana on Saturday…


World Cup: USA’s comeback against Slovenia

A quick note to share a few World Cup related links. ((By the way, a programming note: Things will return to normal here at, with regular posts about Thailand, soon. I promise.))

I can’t stop thinking about yesterday’s remarkable USA-Slovenia match, in which the US went down 2-0 in the first half and then fought back to level the score.


As I Tweeted earlier today, I was thrilled with the US team’s resilience. Landon Donovan, in particular, was exceptional. And Michael Bradley’s play was truly inspired; his neat toe-poke finish for the second goal was surely much harder than it looked.

I watched the game live and then watched the replay in its entirety today. What would have been the US’s winning goal was called back, which was — to say the least — unfortunate. (Indeed, the 3-2 win would have been the most memorable and dramatic US soccer victory in decades.)

No US player appeared to be offiside on the play, and though there was jostling among American and Slovenian players in the box, that had been happening all game long. It seems the referee chose to enforce the rule and whistle for a foul in this one instance, when that sort of pushing and shoving is commonplace in the modern game and had been happening throughout the contest.

That said, the US also benefited from other odd refereeing decisions during the game. Clint Dempsey’s foul in the opening minutes could easily have warranted a yellow card. And in fact, I’m not convinced that the foul that led to the free kick and the US’s called-back goal was actually a foul in the first place.

Here’s a match report from the NYT‘s George Vecsey, in which he rightly points out that the US team were to blame for falling behind in the first half.

And here’s an AP piece that describes scenarios for the US team advancing. The Americans can still progress, but they must beat Algeria. If they draw with Algeria, it gets complicated, but depending on the result of the England-Slovenia game, it’s still possible.

As for yesterday’s England-Algeria match, all I can say is that the Three Lions delivered another tepid performance. More on their side soon.

UPDATE: June 20: Regarding the called back goal, this theory seems possible: it was a make-up call, since the foul leading to the free kick — as I noted — was dubious.


The World Cup so far: goalkeepers in the spotlight

We’re less than a week into the month-long World Cup, and there’s already plenty to discuss — much of it involving goalkeepers’ poor performances.

Specifically, much scorn has been heaped upon the usually top-notch Robert Green, whose mistake in the U.S.-England game on June 12 allowed the underdog American side to earn an unlikely point from a 1-1 draw.

England goalkeeper Rob Green.

The Three Lions scored a good goal in just the fourth minute via Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. But the U.S.’s Clint Dempsey, who plays for English Premier League outfit Fulham, equalized for the Americans in the 40th minute when Green fumbled Dempsey’s speculative shot from distance:

The English side were expected to win. And though they played better and created more chances than the U.S., it was Green’s error — in addition to some inspired saves from his counterpart in the U.S. goal, Tim howard — that turned the game. ((The result inspired frenzied media coverage in the U.S. and in the U.K. For a British take on the media response in the U.S., see this Sun item. And here’s a summary of British tabloid headlines from USA TODAY. There was also plenty of discussion on Twitter. @ShamSports tweeted: “Dictate, command, govern, eclipse, lead, dominate…then give it all back for free. Pretty much sums up England’s relationship with America.”))

I mentioned, in my last post, that I’m eager to see how the world’s best goalkeepers perform in this tournament. And I must say I’m surprised we’ve seen so many goalkeeping errors so far. Indeed, Green hasn’t been the only one to commit a conspicuous mistake.

On June 13, Algerian custodian Faouzi Chaouchi let a fairly tame shot slip through his hands, costing his team points against Slovenia.

And then yesterday, North Korea’s goalkeeper, Ri Myong Guk was caught out when Brazil’s magnificent Maicon scored at the near post. ((Perhaps the North Korean stopper found himself intimidated on the world stage. It would be hard to blame him if that were the case. He plays his club soccer for Pyongyang City Sports Group in the DPR Korea League.))

Indeed, all goalkeepers — even the best of them — make mistakes that lead to goals. Here’s Gigi Buffon, widely regarded as the world’s best custodian, making a schoolboy error a few years back.

So what’s the problem?

Some have speculated that the ball is to blame.


Germany coach Joachim Löw and the Jabulani.

The new Adidas Jabulani model is said to swerve and bounce unpredictably. Others say that the altitude may be to blame, as many games are being played in thin air, where driven balls dip and bend in strange ways. But these lapses seem to be errors in technique more than spills caused by odd aerodynamics. It will be interesting to see if the goalkeeping blunders continue through the tournament.

And finally, on a lighter note, if you missed the U.S.-England match — and Green’s mistake — you might enjoy watching the replay below, which has been recreated using LEGOs:

Bangkok Journalism Thailand

Thailand’s World Cup Behind Bars

I spent several hours at Bangkok’s Klong Prem Central Prison yesterday, where the “World Cup 2010 Behind Bars” kicked off. It was a truly uplifting event.

The tournament is modeled on the actual World Cup, with foreign and Thai inmates competing for a gold colored replica of the World Cup trophy.

In yesterday’s opening match, South Africa played Mexico — just as the two nations will square off later today, in the World Cup’s first game ((More on the real World Cup soon. I am highly excited.)).

There were cheering spectators. There were dancers. There was confetti. There was even a marching band. The prisoners with whom I spoke were all, understandably, delighted with the competition.

Here’s the story I wrote for AFP.

UPDATE: Here’s the full text of the story.


RIP Robert Enke

RIP, Robert Enke

I didn’t have time to note this sad news yesterday, but wanted to point it out since I’ve blogged about soccer and goalkeeping in the past.

Robert Enke, the goalkeeper for the German national soccer team and club side Hannover 96, committed suicide on Tuesday. He was 32 years old. Enke was in the running to be Germany’s starting goalkeeper at the World Cup this summer.

He leaves behind his wife and their eight-month-old daughter. Enke had battled depression, his wife says. He killed himself by stepping in front of a train in Hannover.

The New York Times/IHT has a story about his death. There’s more from the AP and CNN.


Thailand coach Peter Reid: staying put?

More on the confusion surrounding Thailand soccer coach Peter Reid’s potential move to EPL outfit Stoke City. Today’s Bangkok Post has this item:

Peter Reid will continue as the national team coach, according to Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Worawi Makudi.

Worawi’s statement came after he met the Englishman at a Thai restaurant in Manchester on Saturday night.

English Premeir League chairman Sir David Richards, who introduced Reid to Worawi, was also at the meeting.

Worawi and Reid shook hands in front of Thai journalists to signal an end to the will-he-stay-or-go saga.

“Everything has become clear. We have reached a conclusion that Reid will remain as Thailand’s coach. He is likely to return to Thailand this week,” Worawi told England-based Thai reporters.

Reid worked as assistant to Stoke City manager Tony Pulis last week but Worawi said this was not a serious matter because Reid had asked for his permission.

“He did not sign a contract with Stoke,” said Worawi.

“He just helped his friend. He cannot go anywhere at the moment because he is still under contract with the FAT.”

Once again, stay tuned…


Confusion over Thailand coach Peter Reid

Many foreign news organizations are reporting that Peter Reid, who has coached Thailand’s national soccer team for the past year, is leaving to take the assistant’s job at English Premier League outfit Stoke City. ((If you’re wondering where Stoke is located, consult this handy map of English Premier League teams that I mentioned earlier.))

Here are stories from BBC Sport (“Reid content with assistant role”) and PA (“Reid claims agreement over Stoke move”). And there’s this ESPN Soccernet piece (“Reid ready for back-seat role under Pulis at Stoke”), which cites quotes from Reid that ran on BBC Radio Stoke.

But today’s Bangkok Post has this story — “Worawi says Reid will stay”:

The Peter Reid saga continued yesterday when Thai football chief Worawi Makudi insisted that he will remain as Thailand’s national team coach.

Worawi, who is in England as guest of the English FA, said he had talked to the former Sunderland and Leeds manager who confirmed he will return to Thailand.

“I have talked to him on the phone and he says he wants to continue as Thailand’s coach,” said the president of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT).

Reid, 53, has been quoted as saying in the English media that he is leaving Thailand and will become Stoke City manager Tony Pulis’ assistant.


Worawi said he will meet Reid in Manchester tomorrow to get a clear-cut answer from him in person.

“I will ask him to make it clear. It will be an end to the confusing matter if he says he wants to continue coaching Thailand,” Worawi said.

“But if he wants to terminate the contract, then I can’t do anything.”

Stay tuned…

(Thanks to @bangkokbugle for the tip.)


Newcastle and Thai PM Abhisit

Newcastle United have been relegated from the English Premier League after 16 years in the top flight. The side lost 1-0 at Aston Villa last night, meaning Newcastle will play in England’s second tier next season.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was born in Newcastle and is a passionate fan of the club, ((Upon taking office, Abhisit received a Newcastle shirt from Britain’s ambassador to Thailand.)) is surely feeling down.

Nation: “Newcastle till I die: Abhisit.”

After watching his favourite football club, Newcastle United, lose their last Premier League game and get relegated in the process, Abhisit went to bed Sunday night with hope in his heart. And he wore a Newcastle necktie to work Monday morning to display his unwavering support for the club.

“Newcastle will be promoted back to the Premier League next year,” Abhisit told reporters Monday morning. “I’m still having strong faith in the club.”

Abhisit confirmed reports that he had intended to call Newcastle manager Alan Shearer. He hasn’t made such a call, though, probably because of Sunday’s heartbreaking result or because of uncertainties surrounding Shearer’s future.

And there’s this:

Meanwhile, Manchester City, which were owned briefly by his political rival, Thaksin Shinawatra, ended their League campaign right in the middle of the 20-team table, after beating Bolton Wanderers 1-0 on Sunday.

The AP also has a story: “Thai PM will still support Newcastle“:

Abhisit, sporting a tie bearing a Newcastle logo on Monday, says he watched the match and was not shocked by the result considering the team had so many injuries. He had planned to call the manager Shearer if the team won, but decided not to after the loss.

“I will continue to support the team and I believe they will make it back,” Abhisit said. “I still have faith in Newcastle.”


Man U: Now sponsored by the US Fed

There was a time when it bothered me that most Americans don’t appreciate football (soccer). I love the game. I always have. Why, I wondered, doesn’t everyone in the US think it’s the Best Sport Ever Created?

These days, though, I’m not hung up on the issue. As Dave Eggers wrote in his contribution to the excellent book The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, the game is doing just fine without America. Soccer doesn’t need the United States.

In an interesting twist, however, the US government has now effectively become the official sponsor of Manchester United, perhaps the world’s biggest and most successful soccer club.

How is that, you ask?

Well, in September, 2008, insurance behemoth AIG was given a US$85 billion bailout by the US federal reserve. AIG is Manchester United’s “principal sponsor,” and the AIG logo is emblazoned on the Man U shirt (see above). It’s a four-year deal in which AIG pays Manchester United US$102.9 million in total, or roughly US$25 million per year.

So, here’s some back of the envelope math: Man U pays Cristiano Ronaldo, 2008’s FIFA world player of the year, approximately US$9 million per year in wages as part of a five-year contract. So the AIG money — which now comes from what could be argued is essentially a nationalized US asset — represents almost three times Ronaldo’s yearly salary.

Who’d have seen that coming?

I might have to switch my allegiance from Arsenal to Man U. It would be the patriotic thing to do.