Confusion over Thailand ACL allocation

Confusion over Thailand ACL allocation

By Kitinan Sanguansak - AFF Thai correspondent

Despite failing to survive the AFC Champions League group stage, Thai Premier League champions Buriram United have won more admirers for their commendable performances in their debut campaign in the continent’s premier club competition.

Argentinian midfielder Dario Conca (right) scored a stoppage time penalty as Guangzhou Evergrande edged out Buriram United

Unfortunately, it might be the last time people watch the north-eastern club or other Thai outfits play on the continental stage following the confusion over the club licensing issue.

Buriram were unable to defy the odds to steer their way out of the group that contained four domestic league champions from four different countries. However, the six-point tally they claimed from the six group matches was possibly far better than what people expected when the draw was made.

Although Buriram proved irresistible domestically last season when they swept all in front them with a historic treble, many pundits believed they would find life difficult when making its first foray into the tournament equivalent of UEFA Champions League.

In fact, the event represented a whole new territory for any Thai representative. It was the first time since 2008 that a Thai club reached the competition proper after the country received one automatic place as well as one playoff spot when the AFC reviewed allocations in November. Given that, it was not a surprise many already wrote off Buriram’s chances even before a ball was kicked.

However, the club, known last season as Buriram PEA before outspoken owner Newin Chidchob completed his takeover in the close season, fared better than even the most optimistic supporter’s expectation. They briefly held the lead after making a strong start with two wins out of two: a thrilling 3-2 win at home to J. League champions Kashiwa Reysol followed by a 2-1 away victory over Chinese Super League winners Guangzhou Evergrande.

Just when Buriram coach Attaphol Puspakom started dreaming of leading a second Thai side to the knock out stage after he guided BEC Tero Sasana to the final in 2003, things began to crumble when they crashed to a 2-0 home loss against K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Few could have known that the first defeat in the campaign would have such damaging impact on the Thais’ confidence as Attaphol’s side never recovered from the setback. The 2-1 loss at home to Guangzhou last week, which sealed their fate, completed the four-match losing streak.

Nevertheless, Buriram’s first ACL campaign still had positives to take from their strong showing against opponents from the continent’s leading leagues. It showed that the perceived gap in league standard was not as wide as people thought. They proved more than a match to all rivals in the group either at home or away as they never lost more than two-goal margin.

Buriram’s demise was largely down to its lack of experience at international level. Some might argue that both Guangzhou and Kashiwa teams also made their first appearance in the competition as well but those two clubs had better equipped squads, particularly the Chinese outfit who invested heavily on foreign talents including highly-rated midfielder Dario Conca of Argentina.

Given such an encouraging campaign from the Thai club on their return to continental football, it is still uncertain whether they would get another crack at the ACL, with Asian football’s governing body due to revise the slot allocation at the end of the current campaign.

The immediate concern for the Thai clubs, though, is a possibility that they could miss out on the places in any of the AFC tournaments next season. The governing body has stated that clubs participating in all the AFC competitions must fulfill the club licensing criteria by 2013.

It was the responsibility for each national association to take care of licensing process for their own clubs. However, it was reported none of Thai clubs so far has a license. When pressed by Thai media, who sought for a clarification on the issue, Worawi Makudi, the Thai FA boss, who also sits in the AFC executive committee, said there would be a compromise to allow Thai clubs play without license for the next two years.

However, what will we do if the AFC decide not do so when the new rules take effect? Will Worawi take responsibility for the latest example of poor management under his leadership?




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