Asian struggles at World Cup showcase some problems at home
The World Cup finals have already ended for the Asian teams in Brazil with 12 winless games in the group stages demonstrating the coaching and administrative failings of the region.
Australia, Japan, Iran and South Korea all finished bottom of their respective groups, with the latter three ending up with one point to their name, while the Australians were pointless after losses to Chile, the Netherlands and Spain.
“Asian teams year after year keep making the same mistakes, so they’ll never be able to be on the same level as Europe or South America,” said Carlos Queiroz, the Iran coach who quit his position after his side had lost their final game against Bosnia on Wednesday.
“It’s because of the competition system, the training and organisation. You cannot copy Europe because the day you think you are close, they are one step ahead because they also progress.
“But the officials persist in copying Europe and year after year the gap is higher and higher. It is a pity because 60 per cent of the money in football comes from Asia and they have the worst conditions.”
Asian champions Japan have proved the most disappointing of the quartet in Brazil, despite the investment and burgeoning health of the domestic J-League.
“I would really like Japan to do well on the pitch as they tend to do everything right off the pitch. The Japanese model is the one to follow in AFC,” said Englishman Steve Darby, who has coached throughout Asia from Australia to Bahrain.
“Japan has long-term goals – unlike many countries who have such short-term ones based purely on immediate results – a strong league, underpinned by an organised systematic youth development programme.
“Far too often the coaching positions in youth development are ‘given’ to people and it is such an important role.”
German Holger Osieck was guilty of having short-term goals and was axed as Australia coach in favour of popular local coach Ange Postecoglou before the World Cup.
The 3-1 and 3-2 defeats by Chile and the Netherlands suffered by his young side, though, were met with mild relief at home after 6-0 friendly hammerings by Brazil and France under Osieck had many Socceroos fans fearing embarrassment.
South Korea were disappointingly beaten 4-2 by Algeria to effectively end their hopes of qualification after a promising, if dull, draw with Russia, while Queiroz had always warned Iran needed a miracle if they were to advance after long bemoaning the “amateur” set up at home.
“For us as a confederation, that’s the next challenge, to try and not just come into these tournaments but really try to make an impact,” Postecoglou said.
The onus is on the quartet to do so with the picture looking bleak behind them.
Jordan were humbled 5-0 at home by Uruguay in the first leg of the intercontinental play-off for the last spot in Brazil, with the AFC’s Bahraini president Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa reacting by pushing to ensure future Asian play-off teams will face far easier Oceania Confederation opponents instead.
But while the prestige and prize money of reaching the World Cup would be welcomed, the grim reality of the gulf in class is only likely to harm and embarrass.
At the 2010 tournament in South Africa, North Korea were tanked 7-0 by Portugal with Saudi Arabia smashed 8-0 by Germany in the group stages in 2002 – two of the biggest defeats since El Salvador’s record 10-1 loss to Hungary in 1982.
Qatar, who will make their World Cup debut in 2022 as hosts, were beaten 5-1 by Uzbekistan last year in a qualifier.
Darby said the Qataris, though, were setting the example in terms of state-of-the-art training facilities, which was an obvious area smaller member associations needed to address.
“At the moment there are about four nations in Asia that are competitive, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Iran, but there is a second layer that should be competitive Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi and, of course, China should be there all the time,” he said.
“A bit like society in general in Asia there are super rich footballing nations and some terribly poor, perhaps it needs more middle class football nations to make that elite group stronger.”
Despite Asian sides winning only 14 matches at the 20 World Cups and only six teams ever making it through the first stage they have a powerful supporter.
Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, told the members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) last year “you are a powerhouse,” as he encouraged them to bid to have their four-and-a-half World Cup slots increased by the world governing body.
Sceptics suggested it was an election ploy by the Swiss to win favour with the 46 member confederation, infamous for global match-fixing and corruption than World Cup glory, ahead of a likely bid for a fifth term at the top in 2015.
“I think Sepp Blatter says what is the most politically expedient at the time to suit the situation,” Darby said.
“I do not believe that the performance of the teams is a major factor. The key is the political power of the Confederation and AFC has a great many votes. The reality is that Bhutan’s vote is equal to Germany or England’s.”
That might be the case, but the 78-year-old Blatter will not be around forever and a new president might have a different philosophy.
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Updated: June 27, 2014 04:00 AM