Asian teams wasting time with meaningless tournaments
The nations of East Asia never seem to tire of playing one another.
If it's not the lesser lights featuring in the football tournament of the quadrennial East Asian Games, then the bigger guns are going head-to-head at the next week's East Asian Championships.
And if that's not enough, they're arranging friendly matches against one another in the run up to major tournaments.
Little to be gained
The coming weekend sees yet another instalment in the battle for regional supremacy between World Cup qualifiers Japan and South Korea, as well as China and Hong Kong.
It's a chance - once again - for Japan coach Takeshi Okada and his Korean counterpart Huh Jung-moo to decide which of their home-based players are likely to have seats on the plane to South Africa for the World Cup.
With the competition falling on dates that are not part of the international calendar, neither coach will have the luxury of fielding full strength teams in an attempt to improve the cohesion and understanding within the starting line-up as the World Cup approaches.
No doubt some lessons will be learned, although those are more likely to be about the individual players than about tactics or how the team fares under pressure. The East Asian Championships boast little in the way of prestige.
However, that won't mean that the North Koreans aren't displeased to be missing from the competition.
A World Cup place was no guarantee of a spot at the tournament, with Hong Kong usurping Kim Jong-hun's side in the tournament's qualifiers back in August last year.
As a result, the next phase of Kim's preparation for the World Cup will lie in Sri Lanka, of all places, when the North Koreans aim to win the Asian Challenge Cup.
Hardly ideal preparation for World Cup
Victory will see the North Koreans earn themselves entry into the finals of next year's Asian Cup, but in terms of preparation for the mountainous challenge that lies ahead against Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal, it will feel like another world entirely.
Facing off in the group stages against defending champions India, as well as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan is unlikely to replicate the kind of conundrums Kim and his players will face later this year against Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo or Didier Drogba.
But then neither would meeting a China team that has been in disarray for several years or a Hong Kong side that suffered two heavy defeats at the hands of Japan in Asian Cup qualifying in the second half of last year.
In reality, neither the East Asian Championships nor the Asian Challenge Cup are the ideal way to prepare for teams intent on making an impression on some of the game's greatest names.
And yet this is what Japan, South Korea and North Korea have ahead of them in February. This kind of preparation does not bode well for their hopes in South Africa in a little over four months' time.
So why do they bother? Why not play these tournaments after the World Cup and allow the teams time in the run-up to the finals to arrange more meaningful friendlies against stiffer, more appropriate opposition?
Well, first and foremost are the financial concerns involved, particularly in relation to the East Asian Championships.
The East Asian Football Federation is backed extensively by sponsors from Japan and operates out of the headquarters of the Japan Football Association.
Japan sells its soul
Japanese football long ago sold its soul to the corporate beast - indeed many would say it owes its entire existence to it - and, as a result, the pressure from the commercial partners and the insatiable animal that is Japanese television are insurmountable.
The revenue from tickets sales and television for these kind of events are the lifeblood of both the JFA and the EAFF and they hold significantly more value in the run-up to the World Cup than in its aftermath.
So the real needs of the teams - to meet nations of a higher standard in unfamiliar environments - play second fiddle to the commercial concerns of the governing bodies.
And the very same people wonder why the performances of Asia's leading nations has yet to improve on the world stage.
About the Author
Michael Church lives in Hong Kong and has spent the last decade-and-a-half covering soccer throughout Asia and, as a result, is one of the leading authorities on the game across the continent. He is World Soccer's correspondent for the region and during his time in Asia he has covered the performances of the region's teams at the last three World Cups.