Southeast Asia Football Rising?
Image Credit: Flickr/Tomer Arazy

Southeast Asia Football Rising?

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In the whole of the Asia-Pacific, the region that is arguably the most passionate about football is Southeast Asia. A good portion of its 600 million people are in love with the game. It is therefore no coincidence that English Premier League teams, as well as titans from other parts of Europe, are regularly found in cities such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta.

It is also regrettable that, despite their love for football, Southeast Asia has not produced more indigenous powerhouses. One has to go back to the 1938 World Cup finals when the Dutch East Indies, representing what is now Indonesia, participated in the tournament, for the region’s only appearance on the global stage.

A similar trend emerges at the Asian Cup. While Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam all had automatic spots when they hosted the event in 2007,  not a single team from the ten ASEAN members qualified for the sequel in Qatar four years later.

And when only three teams made it as far as the penultimate round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup and failed to even appear in the final stage, then you know something is wrong.

One of the oft-given reasons is the fact that players from region rarely appear in Europe. South Korea and Japan regularly send representatives to the West but Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have yet to see one of their own blossom in Europe.

If it happened, it would be huge news. Reporters would follow the player’s every step and fans would follow every report. There have been a few attempts to make it happen but so far none have come to fruition.

There is a new prospect however. Teerasil Dangda is the top striker in the whole of Southeast Asia. The Bangkok-born goal-scorer has been well known for some years but he has just started a trial at one of the top clubs in Europe.

"I feel very good with Atletico players. They all are very friendly with me. The fitness session was a bit tiring but overall it was a great experience to have a chance to learn some tricks of the trade from such big name players," said Teerasil after training with the team.

Atletico Madrid is second in La Liga. The Spanish top tier is considered by many to be the strongest league in the world.

Dangda is a fine striker and at 24 is still improving. He could become one of the best in Asia if he continues to work hard, but going to one of the best teams in the world is a step too far. Even if he is signed after the trial period it is likely he will struggle for playing time, especially if he is competing with Radamel Falcao, one of the best strikers in the world.

Heading to a club that can offer minutes on the pitch as he adapts to Europe would be a wiser course of action. This looks to be a step too far and while there are already headlines in the Thai media, it remains to be seen how long they last for.

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