Latest AFC rankings give Saudi Arabia clear path for improvement

Al-Hilal’s impressive march to the AFC Champions League final was not enough to help Saudi Arabia to get above fourth in the AFC club competition’s ranking. (AFP)
Updated 25 December 2017

Latest AFC rankings give Saudi Arabia clear path for improvement

DUBAI: Last week’s release of the latest AFC club competitions ranking may well have caused a stir in Saudi Arabia with the UAE topping the list while Saudi Arabia came fourth behind South Korea and China, but ahead of Japan and Qatar.
The quarterly rankings were introduced by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2014 and since then has been dominated by two countries, South Korea and the UAE.
So, why is the AFC club competitions ranking important? To begin with, the ranking is used to determine whether clubs from each nation compete in the AFC Champions League or in the less prestigious AFC Cup. It also decides how many teams from each country play in these competitions.
While a national team’s FIFA ranking contributes a weight of 10 percent to this ranking system, it is club performances in AFC competitions that are largely the deciding factor. The ranking allocates points for clubs’ performances in the past four editions of AFC competitions and an average for each country is calculated at a weight of 90 percent, the remaining 10 percent is added from the nation’s FIFA rankings.
Saudi Arabia are the sixth highest ranked Asian country in the latest FIFA rankings, ahead of the AFC rankings toppers the UAE, but as this counted for only a 10th of the weight, this allowed the UAE to trump their Gulf neighbors.
So why, when on the international stage The Green Falcons are looking ever more impressive did Saudi Arabia not finish higher? Club performances in the AFC Champions League is where Saudi falls short. Al-Hilal aside, results have been mediocre for Saudi Arabian teams in Asia’s top club competition over the past few years.
Since 2014, Al-Hilal are the only team from the Kingdom to progress past the quarter-finals, finishing runners-up twice (2014 and 2017) and reaching the semifinal in 2015.
In comparison, the UAE have had two different finalists in the same period (Al-Ahli in 2015 and Al-Ain in 2016), the latter also reached the semifinals in 2014. Dubai based Al-Nasr reached the quarter-finals in 2016 and were only eliminated due to fielding Brazilian striker Wanderley as an Asian player under a fake Indonesian passport.
The AFC Champions League quarter-finals have always featured at least one Emirati club, while all Saudi clubs had failed to advance past the last 16 in 2016.
Al-Hilal’s great AFC Champions League campaign which saw them reach the final before losing to Urawa Reds has boosted Saudi Arabia’s fortunes, but as the 2018 edition kicks-off in February, the Kingdom’s clubs will have their work cut out in pursuit of a higher place in the ranking. This comes after Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad, who have both qualified for next year’s competition, have failed to obtain the AFC Club License necessary to participate in next year’s AFC Champions League. The teams below them in the 2016/17 Saudi Pro League table, Al-Raed, Al-Shabab and Al-Tawoun were also unable to obtain the license.
AFC Regulations state that only teams that finish in the top half of the domestic league are eligible to play in AFC competitions, provided they obtain the license. This means Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli will be Saudi Arabia’s only representatives in next year’s competition.
Granted, the two teams were always bound to be the likeliest to progress to advanced stages of the competition, judging by recent history. But by losing two more spots at the continental competition, Saudi’s chances of climbing up the AFC rankings will suffer considerable damage.
Last Tuesday, two-time AFC Champions League winners Al-Ittihad announced that the club is set to receive a SR13 million cash injection from the General Sports Authority. The money will be used to settle outstanding payments owed to former players like Australia’s James Troisi. Unmet financial obligations were the main reason behind the club’s failure to land the AFC license, and the situation at Al-Nassr is no different.
Teams need sustainable sources for revenue and sound management of those funds if they are to retain their once prominent place at the top table of Asian football and propel Saudi further up the AFC Rankings.

Premier League legend Ashley Cole announces retirement, plans move into coaching

Updated 33 min 38 sec ago

Premier League legend Ashley Cole announces retirement, plans move into coaching

LONDON: Former England defender Ashley Cole is planning a move into coaching after announcing his retirement from football.

Cole won 13 major titles during his 20-year career, including the 2012 Champions League with Chelsea, three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.

The 38-year-old Cole, who also won 107 caps for England, announced his retirement Sunday while working as a pundit on British broadcaster Sky Sports.

"After hard thinking and consideration, it was obviously time to hang my boots up and look towards my next chapter, which will hopefully be coaching. I'm doing a course at the moment," Cole said. "Now I want to be great at being a coach."

Cole said he was most proud of his haul of England caps. Only Peter Shilton, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Bobby Moore have made more appearances for the country.

Cole began his career with Arsenal and, after a brief loan spell at Crystal Palace, went on to make more than 200 appearances for the Gunners, lifting the FA Cup three times and winning the Premier League twice. He was a member of the "Invincibles" team which went through the 2003-04 Premier League season unbeaten.

He left the club in acrimonious circumstances in 2006 and was fined £100,000 ($121,500) — later reduced to £75,000 on appeal — for his part in an illegal approach from Chelsea in 2005, the club he would join the following year.

Cole won the FA Cup in his first season at Stamford Bridge and four times in total and also won the Premier League in 2010 and the Champions League in 2012, scoring in the penalty shootout as Chelsea beat Bayern Munich.

After leaving Chelsea in 2014, Cole had spells with Roma and LA Galaxy before ending his playing career under former Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard at Derby in England's second tier.