Just how equal are Southeast Asian leagues?

Last week the European based agency, CIES Football Observatory, declared that the UEFA Champions League was one of the most ‘unequal’ competitions on the continent. In response, FOX Sports Asia takes the same model and applies it to Southeast Asia.

The CIES study looked at disparity between leagues in Europe based on an analysis of the percentage of matches that finished with a three-goal or wider winning margin across 31 leagues as well as the UCL and Europa League.

Their findings showed that minimum three-goal margin applied in more than 20% of Champions League matches making it, by their analysis, amongst the most ‘unbalanced’ leagues in European football.

Out in front were the leagues of Cyprus (22.5%) and Austria (21.5%) with the both the English Premier League (17.7%) & Spain’s La Liga (17.6%) also inside the top ten.

Whilst not as comprehensive as that European study, FOX Sports Asia looked back over the past two years worth of data in the Asian Champions League, the AFC Cup as well as the major Southeast Asian leagues in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Cambodia and Vietnam to highlight just where the biggest gap lies in the region.

With a number that’s right on the verge of the most unequal competitions in Europe, the AFC’s second-tier AFC Cup clocks in at a whopping 22% of matches that finished with at least a three-goal winning margin in a worrying sign that the gap between those at the top and the bottom may indeed be growing across Asia.

On the overall scale though the clear ‘winner’ was Cambodia whose domestic league saw a scarcely believable 28.5% of all matches reach that three-goal minimum, raising several questions as to just why there are so many blowouts.

Australia’s A-League – the only competition with a salary cap designed to level the playing field – was the second least competitive league by our analysis whilst it was much better reading for those in Singapore and Malaysia who finished as our most competitive domestic leagues over the past two seasons.

Below are the full results:

AFC CUP: 22%
MYANMAR: 17.1%
VIETNAM: 15.6%

CAMBODIA – 28.5%
A league with a couple of powerhouse clubs and some real battlers, plus some question marks over the competitive nature of several matches – it’s little surprise that Cambodia’s domestic league tops our list of the least competitive in Southeast Asia.

With a massive 38 of 132 matches in 2015 & 25 of 89 last year being won by a margin of at least three goals, our analysis found that 28.5% are considered uncompetitive in the Kingdom.

AFC CUP – 22%
Leaving aside the playoffs, the 2015 AFC Cup campaign saw 27 of the 115 matches (two semifinals were cancelled when Kuwaiti clubs were banned) at a whopping rate of 23.5% and that was closely followed last season when 24 of the 117 ended with that minimum requirement at a slightly lower 20.5%.

AFC Cup – not so equal!

The only league amongst those surveyed that employs a salary cap that is designed to level out the competition, the two-year study of the A-League showed that is certainly the case at least in terms of consistency.

Across the 2014/15 & 2015/16 seasons there was an almost identical number of the 140 matches each campaign (24 & 25) that ended with the minimum three-goal benchmark at a total rate of 17.5% placing the league near the top of our list as the most uncompetitive.

MYANMAR – 17.1%
With a couple of powerhouse teams in the league scores quite often blew out over the past couple of years in Myanmar with the three-goal or more margin being reached in 20 of the 132 matches in the 2015 season and 25 times last year for a total percentage of 17.1, placing the National League quite high up our list.

VIETNAM – 15.6%
The data was remarkably similar across both the 2015 & 2016 seasons with 27 of the 182 V.League matches reaching the three-goal or greater mark in 2015 and 30 the year after, meaning the total percentage across the two years was a very respectable 15.6%.

Of note here too was the fact that in both a dozen of the 14 clubs reached that mark at least once throughout the season.

Not factoring in the playoffs, of the 126 matches played across the group and knockout stages in 2015 only 15 ended with the three-goal or greater margin at a rate of 11.9% but that mark was slightly higher last year at 17.4% for a total across the two seasons of 14.7%.

AFC CL ranks as competitive.

THAILAND – 14.4%
The two years of data were very similar with the 2015 season producing 46 matches with a three-goal or greater winning margin at a rate of 15% & last year 38 matches at 13.7%, although the season was shortened due to the passing of the Thai King.

The standout feature here though was the huge spread of clubs involved in those matches with 13 teams in 2015 & 14 last year each having at least one match with that healthy margin of victory.

There was a huge discrepancy between the two seasons studied with the ten-team 2015 campaign seeing just 12 of the 135 matches meet the three-goal benchmark whilst last year, with just nine teams in S.League, that blew out to 21 of 108 matches, giving Singapore a respectable average percentage of 13.6%.

MALAYSIA – 13.2%
Despite having a league where one club, JDT, has dominated the landscape the past couple of seasons, Malaysia heads our list as the most competitive in Southeast Asia with just 15 of the 132 matches in the 2015 season and only 20 last year blowing out to the three-goal margin at a highly competitive rate of just 13.2%.