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Asian football goes from joy to despair in a short week

LONDON: Just last week, Asian football was celebrating the fact it had five successful World Cup qualifiers for the first time ever. This week, with the draw for the 2018 tournament imminent, two of the quintet are without a coach. For a continent desperate to redeem itself after the misery of Brazil 2014, it neither reflects nor bodes well.
Maybe Nov. 22, 2017 will be known as “Black Wednesday.” It started on a Sydney morning as an emotional Ange Postecoglou sat at a press conference and announced that he was stepping down as Australia head coach. The reasons remain unclear.
Just a few hours later, and thousands of kilometers away in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) announced that Edgardo Bauza had been given his marching orders. It was a shock but not a surprise given the federation’s history of chopping and changing coaches and speculation just a week earlier that Bauza’s days — limited though they had been — were numbered.
Unlike Postecoglou, who had been in place for four years and had delivered the 2015 Asian Cup, Bauza arrived in Riyadh only in September. The Argentine now has the unfortunate distinction of leaving three national team jobs one year.
Fired by his homeland in April after eight months in charge, released by the United Arab Emirates in September to go to Saudi Arabia, Bauza has clearly had better years.
Bauza’s sacking mirrors what happened the last time the Green Falcons made it to the World Cup. In 2005, another Argentine, Gabriel Calderon led the side through qualification in an impressive fashion. Soon after he was fired as the big bosses reportedly did not like his preparation plan.
In came Marcos Paqueta. The Brazilian was not a big name but had been with Riyadh giants Al-Hilal. Just one point from the 2006 World Cup shows that the gamble did not work.
This is another one. Five friendly games was all Bauza had. For a new coach, three defeats against good opposition should not be a major factor at the start of preparation for the World Cup. But if there was a quick realization that the Argentine was not the right man then it was the right — if ruthless — move.
It’s one that was the result of letting Bert van Marwijk leave in September. The Dutchman, who took his native Netherlands to the 2010 final, had been the Green Falcons coach for two years and delivered a first qualification since 2006. He knew the players and vice-versa.
Talking to the Dutch media shortly after Bauza’s dismissal, Van Marwijk said he’d already been offered his old job. He refused due to the issues that led to his exit, enforced changes to his coaching staff the biggest, still existing.
If true, SAFF going back to offer him his old job back bodes well in terms of how they are approaching the task of replacing Bauza.
What the sacking has done is overshadow the great achievement of Saudi Arabia making it to the showpiece in Russia next year ­— the side’s first trip to a World Cup since Germany 2006.
All football fans aross the Kingdom will doubtless be hoping the SAFF make the right appointment now to boost the hopes of the side’s and Asia’s World Cup hopes.

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