10 reasons why Asia failed at the World Cup
A look at why Asia struggled as a whole at this World Cup…
Lack of leadership
When Korean coach Hong Myung-bo went to Netherlands to visit Park Ji-sung in March, he wasn’t there to scout potential latter stage opposition but to persuade the PSV Eindhoven man to return from international retirement. “This young team needs a veteran,” said Hong. Park’s knackered knees knocked that idea on the head but it was clear that Korea missed the experience and leadership of such a star. Japan also didn’t have players who could take charge on the pitch and help the team react to changing situations.
Alberto Zaccheroni had perfect preparation in the almost four years he was in charge of Japan yet the Italian didn’t perform on the biggest of stages. Japan played passively against Ivory Coast and attacked predictably against Greece. Criticised for introducing the ageing Yasuhito Endo early against the Africans, sticking with the mistake-prone Yasuyuki Konno in defence and presiding over some meek and mild performances, Zaccheroni’s tenure — which contained some real achievements — ended in ignominy. Korean boss Hong does not have such experience but failed to deal with his team’s generous defence and did not please the media and many fans by sticking with goalshy striker Park Chu-young. Carlos Queiroz had a much better tournament but perhaps will regret not being a little more aggressive in the final must-win game with Bosnia.
Stars not shining
Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Park Chu-young, Shinji Okazaki and Lee Chung-yong are some of the bigger name players that just did not perform. Some can perhaps cite club concerns as the cause for their woes, but not all. Honda at least started well with a fine goal against Ivory Coast but Kagawa didn’t even manage that. Many in Korea were against the idea of Park playing for his country when he never played for his club and turns out they were right. When the best players are not at their best, then any team will have problems.
Lack of winning mentality
There’s been plenty written about how an overwhelming desire to win helps to make a small nation like Uruguay a major football country. Parts of Asia could learn a thing or two about being ruthless and indomitable. Some teams and players will do anything to achieve victory. That can lead to unsavoury incidents that leave a bad taste in the mouth but for the likes of Japan and South Korea, it could be something to think about. Playing your own game is all well and good but sometimes, you just have to focus on getting the win, being a little more streetwise and nasty, if need be.
Sometimes it makes a difference. Iran should have had a penalty in the game against Argentina. That could have ended Asia’s winless streak in the most dramatic way imaginable. There was more than a hint of offside about Russia’s equaliser against South Korea and things could have been very different if the Taeguk Warriors had an early three points under their belt. A little luck and the collective continental pot would not be looking quite so empty.
Asia started developing many decades after Europe and has made great strides. However, Korea were poor during qualification but qualified anyway. In a stronger confederation, the Taeguk Warriors would have had to shape up or ship out. Japan strolled through, barely breaking sweat and both failed. A stronger confederation helps everyone. When the only competitive games played against non-Asian opposition comes once every four years, it is imperative that the rest of the time the standard is high enough to ensure that Asian teams go to the World Cup as battle-hardened as possible.
Goalkeepers not at their best
There have been some fine goalkeepers to come out of Asia over the years but this summer, some let their moments in the global shop window slip through their fingers. Iran’s Alireza Haghighi was the only number one who left Brazil with his standing enhanced after arriving in the country as Team Melli’s third-choice. The same can’t be said of the other three. Australia’s Mat Ryan has a growing reputation but could have done better especially against Netherlands. Japan’s Eiji Kawashima was inconsistent and was at fault for Ivory Coast’s second. Jung Sung-ryeong of South Korea didn’t impress against Russia and Algeria.
A lack of reliable goalgetters
It is the age-old question. Do the continent’s clubs pack their squads with foreign strikers because there are not enough local alternatives or are there not enough local alternatives because all the teams are packed with foreign strikers? Whatever the reason, the lack of goalscorers in the continent has been an issue for some time and it was an issue at the World Cup. None of Yuya Osako, Yoichiro Kakitani, Park Chu-young or Kim Shin-wook scored. Tim Cahill, a man who has spent his club career as a midfielder, was the best striker that the AFC had in Brazil.
Certainly the case with Australia. The Socceroos could have tried to pick a tougher group but would have struggled. Despite the fact that the men in Green and Gold won many admirers with the way they went toe-to-toe with Chile and Netherlands, the team ended up with nothing — at least in terms of any points — to show for it. Perhaps Australia would have progressed through an easier group, although there is no guarantee they would have played in the same fashion. Whatever, it was always going to be tough to pick up points and when you only have four representatives, then one being placed in such a tough draw is a big deal. Korea and Japan’s groups were perhaps tougher than many, including the teams themselves, thought.
Iran have the passion and the talent and if things had gone a little differently, could have defeated Argentina and perhaps gone to the second round. It is hard to say how much better Team Melli would be if the situation at home with the interference from the Iranian Football Federation and the government were not so constant and politics was a little more separate. But it is safe to say that they would be better. With ample friendlies, funds and support, it would all be a little easier for Iran to compete more consistently.