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Entry to Asian Cup through AFC Challenge is unfair – Yemen Coach

Ever since the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) started the rule of allowing the winners of the AFC Challenge Cup, a tournament comprising the emerging nations of the continent, to play in the Asian Cup there have been suggestions from several quarters that it is a backdoor entry.

Hence the automatic berths given to India (2008 AFC Challenge Cup champions) and North Korea (2010 AFC Challenge Cup champions) in Asian Cup 2011 in Qatar were heavily criticised. Both nations fared poorly in the tournament itself as they got knocked out from the group stage.

India finished bottom of their group having conceded 13 goals while North Korea failed to score in their three games.

Yemen’s Belgium coach Tom Saintfiet, who has coached national teams in Africa also, admitted to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview that he would back the rule of giving automatic qualification to AFC Challenge winners if he was in charge of an emerging nation.

However, he added that overall the rule was unfair as several higher ranked nations miss out from the biggest competition in Asia.

“When I am coach of one of the countries who participate in the AFC Challenge Cup I would say yes (it’s fair), but nowhere else in the world you have such an extra qualifying route. It’s very strange and you notice that the teams who qualified via the Challenge Cup don’t achieve much at the Asian Cup. I think it would be better for the ‘smaller’ nations to compete in the same qualification as you can learn a lot by playing nations as Japan, Australia or South Korea.

“In Africa, small football nations like Namibia, Botswana, Niger and Ethiopia qualify through the normal qualification for the African Championship, I think that in Asia you can do the same so I would suggest to stop with the AFC Challenge Cup, because why India or even DPR Korea can compete and Yemen not, where are the borders and how fair is this? If everyone competes in the same competition it’s fairer,” he told Sportskeeda.

While India have the chance to qualify for Australia 2015 by winning the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, which they are trying to host, Yemen will have to play in the qualifiers against Bahrain, Qatar and Malaysia.

Saintfiet however was full of praise for India’s Dutch coach Wim Koevermans and believes the Dutch style of play would suit the India team.

“I know Wim very well as we both worked in Holland. Wim is a very good coach and brings the Dutch style of football, I think it suits the Indian players well and I followed the Nehru Cup close, the results there against teams such as Syria, Nepal, Maldives and Cameroon ‘B’ were very good. I saw the highlights of the tournament,” said the 39-year-old.

Nearly the Mohun Bagan coach

Saintfiet also revealed how he nearly became the coach of Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan in the summer of 2011.

“I had contact with Mohun Bagan and we agreed on many things, but at that time I was doing my UEFA Pro License coaching course in Belgium and the combination of being full time in India and following this course wasn’t possible. The UEFA Pro License is very important, the highest degree of coaching so I couldn’t skip that,” he said.

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