While the players are providing a brilliant advertisement for Asian football on the pitch, away from the artificial grass a lot less can be said of the organisers behind the Asian Cup.
The newly crowned hosts of the 2022 World Cup were meant to use the Asian Cup as an advertisement of the popularity of football in the gulf states. Based on the crowd figures for the tournament so far, I dare say FIFA are begging them to turn the cameras off.
Aside from games involving Qatar, every match at the tournament has seen a swathe of empty seats at every stadium making Sydney FC crowds look like a U2 concert.
The pick of the fixtures was the abysmal 3,000 attendance to the ‘do or die’ knockout match between the Socceroos and Bahrain.
Harry Kewell has probably drawn a bigger crowd at training.
It’s hardly the people of Qatar’s fault. A crowd average of 8,000 isn’t so bad when your population is only 1 million and 90% of them live well below the poverty line.
No, where the real fault lies is with the greedy powerbrokers at the AFC and my favourite target Mohammed Bin Hammam.They come to Qatar for money and nothing else.
The fact the AFC has declared this tournament to be a success already speaks volumes of this man’s deluded influence.
The AFC knows, and has known for a long time, that the people of the Gulf and Middle East are not big sporting travellers.
They don’t have the money, the enthusiasm or the football tradition of rival continents.
So when you are totally reliant on the home population to make up the crowd numbers you should probably pick a country bigger than Hobart.
And even if you do, you should then give away as many free tickets as you can to develop some interest.
Tournaments like this are what kill football in developing countries. Nobody wants to see empty stadiums devoid of atmosphere, noise and celebration.
It’s the fans who make watching football what it is – the singing, the chanting and the occasional streak (given the punishments dished out in Qatar for wearing Speedos I can’t imagine what would be in store for a pants-off dash across the park).
The AFC should wise up and start filling up the seats otherwise the column inches will continue to fill up with criticism rather than praise. Then again, that hasn’t seemed to bother them for quite a while now.