As east Asian football grinds to a halt, Australia waits and watches


We are entering uncharted waters with the three big east Asian leagues - China, Japan and Korea Republic - suspending games due to the coronavirus.

The Chinese Super League was supposed to start last weekend but was suspended weeks ago. There are unlikely to be any games until May.

South Korea is experiencing a surge of infections and the K-League, which was due to start this weekend, was postponed following an emergency meeting on Monday.

That left Japan in a tricky situation. A week ago, Korea’s numbers were negligible but one person went to a crowded public place and now almost one thousand people have been infected.

Concern in the Land of the Rising Sun was growing with Vissel Kobe telling fans coming to the opening game last Sunday that while it was OK to clap in the stadium there should be no singing, chanting or moving around too much. The J.League has postponed the next three games and action should resume on March 15.

While there are bigger issues at stake, it means that there are some Australians who have not much to do in the coming weeks.

Spare a thought for Peter Cklamovski. The coach left Ange Postecoglou and his assistant post at Yokohama F. Marinos to take a first head coaching job with Shimizu S-Pulse. After the pre-season, he had just one league game, a 3-1 home defeat, and now is going to have to wait for at least three weeks to get going again.

Ange Postecoglou at least has two (very impressive) AFC Champions League games under his belt, though there are no more continental tests until April.

It can’t be easy for Perth Glory either. A first ever Champions League campaign is not panning out quite as planned. The first game against Shanghai Shenhua was put back to April 28 then there was a 1-0 loss at FC Tokyo.

The game at South Korea’s Ulsan Horangi on March 4 is still set to go ahead, though this could change if authorities in Korea or Australia decide to limit travel, but it will be played in an empty stadium. 

The Champions League is proving to be a major headache for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Rearranging a few domestic games is not that big a deal but when it comes to regular international clashes and a group stage that should be finished by June then there are no easy answers.

The official stance has not changed since the Feb 4 emergency meeting in Kuala Lumpur that rescheduled the first three games of the Chinese teams to April and May. There are daily discussions, however, and with the AFC at the mercy of events it could all change at any time.

Not just yet though, at least for Adam Taggart’s sake. The striker is going to have to wait to find his second season shooting boots with Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings.

The 2019 K-League top scorer has an AFC Champions League fixture in Malaysia on March 3 but that is likely to be it before the Socceroos resume 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification on March 26.

Australia is set to host Kuwait in Perth and then move to Nepal five days later. As things stand, this does not seem to be a major problem but who knows? If there is disruption then at least Graham Arnold's men have four wins from four and are set for the next stage.

Others are not so lucky. China has already moved qualifiers against Guam and the Maldives to Thailand. Korea is discussing what to do about its home game with Turkmenistan, and Iran, the worst hit so far in west Asia, may have to play Hong Kong elsewhere. Hong Kong may also have its subsequent home game with Iraq moved, at the request of the opposition.

These are uncertain times with the start of three major leagues, the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers.

Clubs and players have to be prepared for some lengthy periods without competitive action but also for schedules and locations to be changed at a moment’s notice.