Simeone cautiously optimistic on SEA football

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has decided to remain cautiously optimistic after being asked about the future of football in Southeast Asia.

Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

The Rojiblancos have just completed a three-day charity trip to Singapore, where - amongst other things - they played a Singapore Selection side for the Peter Lim Charity Cup, a match which they won 2-0 thanks to goals from Raul Garcia and Diego Costa.

In recent times, football in Asia has grown remarkably, especially after the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan, with national teams from the continent no longer the pushovers they once were on the international stage.

Domestically, the Japanese, South Korean and especially the Chinese leagues all have the pulling power to attract some of the biggest stars in the world, with Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Rivaldo and Lucas Barrios just a few of the players that have plied their trade in Asia recently.

However, Southeast Asia continues to lag behind the rest of the continent, a worrying state of affairs best exemplified by the fact that only one club from the region qualified for the quarter-finals of both the AFC Champions League (Thailand's Buriram United) and AFC Cup (Indonesia's Semen Padang).

With 106 Argentina caps to his name and spells at Atletico, Inter Milan and Lazio throughout his playing career, Simeone has no lack of international experience and only months ago, he worked close with Thailand international Teerasil Dangda - widely regarded as the region's best player at the moment - when the striker was on trial with the Rojiblancos at the start of the year.

And after coming up against a selection of the best footballers currently playing in Singapore and toiling to a two-goal win - albeit in what was effectively an exhibition match - the former Argentina international believes there is room to be optimistic about the growth of football in the region.

"It's difficult to tell where the level [of Southeast Asian football] is by just one match," he said.

"It's definitely growing and I believe it will keep on growing. The possibility for teams to rise is certainly there.

"We'll have to wait and see. Destiny will show us how far it [Southeast Asian football] goes."

Simeone also dismissed suggestions he was disappointed his side had only been able to beat the Singapore Selection by two goals, insisting he had been expecting a testing encounter.

"It was quite a close game," he added. "The Singapore team were very competitive.

"I'm not surprised that the defence held up so well. From the first minute, you could tell they were competitive and it was good for the game."

Simeone also named Singapore stars Shahril Ishak and Hariss Harun when asked which players impressed him the most on Wednesday, but admitted it remains to be seen if either would be able to play in Europe.

Image courtesy of FAS

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