Friday, March 22, 2013

Fair Play: Brunei pulls a disappearing act

DUE to unavoidable circumstances--which is diplo-speak for 'Crap, we need a valid excuse, now!'--Brunei will skip the AFC Challenge Cup Group E qualifiers, rendering plans for Friday's gatherings of footie fans all over the country moot.

And of course, putting a monkey wrench in the preparation of the Local Organizing Committee, the Philippine Football Federation and generating a collective "What the _____ from teams like India, Bangladesh and Laos.

What is strange is that Brunei's announcement came from its Ministry of Sports, not its national association--something that would be akin to the Philippine Sports Commission saying the Philippines will skip the Suzuki Cup.

So, where does that leave the Philippines?

The Challenge Cup is not like other events that most Filipino fans are familiar with, as aside from the group stage winners making the final stage in Maldives, the two best second-ranked teams will make it.  The 20 teams in the qualifiers were divided into five groups of four teams each, and Group E, where we belong, is the last to kick off.

The other groups are finished, and the best second-ranked teams so far are Bangladesh with six points and goal difference of five and India, with six points and a goal difference of four.

Enter Brunei's sudden pullout.  (How sudden was it? PFF secretary general Atty. Edwin Gastanes that a day before announcing its pullout, Brunei requested for an early arrival on March 19.)  The pullout means Group E teams can only play a maximum of two games, and are at a disadvantage in the search for the second-best teams.  

For a while, as football pundit Roy Moore--an Englishman who runs a charity in Manila--pointed out Appendix 2 of the Challenge Cup regulations, which cites that in cases there are an uneven number of teams in the groups, the games between the second-placer and the last-ranked teams in the other groups will be nullified when determining the qualifiers.

In that scenario, Bangladesh, the best second-ranked team, would have been disqualified as its 4-0 win over the Northern Marianas wouldn't have counted and Laos, the worst second placer at five points and a goal difference of four would have made it as it drew last-placer Mongolia, 1-1.

Would have been a nice scenario, right?

But, late last night, it seems the AFC proceeded to declare all of Brunei's matches as 3-0 wins for the other teams and Group E teams can now qualify by aiming for a 2-0 win in their first games and hoping for a draw, or even, just a 1-0 loss in their final matches.

Now that is a really favorable scenario.

Of course, for the Philippines, a first game with Brunei would have been better, even better than that 3-0 win on paper.  It would have meant Neil Etheridge has served his suspension and that game would get the team to jell better.  

In the past, we don't do well in the first game of a group stage, losing to North Korea in the Challenge Cup finals, losing to Thailand, 2-1, in the Suzuki Cup last year, and only getting a goal against Guam in the Peace Cup last year.  In the second group stage matches, we beat India (2-0) in the Challenge Cup, Vietnam (1-0) in the Suzuki Cup and Macau (5-0) in the Peace Cup.

Now, because Brunei can’t get its barn-yard dung together, we don’t have that luxury and there’s no time for the team to get a feel of each other against Cambodia and debutant Javier Patino, whose mother is from Cebu, will really have to deliver.

P.S.  The reason for Brunei's sudden pullout is still a mystery, I just hope the Sultanate won't cite the Sabah issue for its pullout. Now that, would really put an interesting spin on things.


No comments: