The Football World Cup in Brazil was not a good tournament for Asian teams, with all four qualifiers heading home after the group stages.
None of the Asian representatives won a single game at the World Cup, Japan the Korea Republic and Iran all managed one draw and two losses while Australia lost all three of its group games.
Of the four teams Iran only managed one goal in its three games, Japan two, while Australia and the Korea Republic managed three a piece in their three games. Australia matched Cameroon with the worst defensive record in the tournament conceding nine goals in just three games, Iran conceded eight and Korea Republic and Japan, two of the strongest teams from Asia conceded six each in their three group matches.
The tournament has surpassed the goals scored in the whole of the 2010 tournament with eleven matches still to be played and the all time highest scoring tournament France ’98’s record looks in doubt. A tournament where 171 goals were scored. In 2006 in Germany there were 147 and in South Africa 145 goals scored. This will be little comfort to the Asian representatives who found it hard to score and were too easily scored against. They collectively conceded 29 goals in 12 games, and notched only nine.
With Africa having two teams progress to the last sixteen Asia could find one of their qualification spots under pressure, or at least their play off spot. There are also already rumblings that FIFA needs to revisit the qualification process to ensure that the best 32 teams in the World compete at the finals and not just the best representatives from all of the FIFA regions. The AFC executive are going to have to be ready for this as Asia looks to be the region to miss out down the track.
Sadly it is not just in football that Asia is falling behind the rest of the world. If we take a look at the recently completed Hockey World Cup in the Netherlands, Australia were victorious in the Men’s competition, but Australia were there representing Oceania, the body their football team left to join Asia.
In this twelve team tournament Asian teams occupied three of the bottom four places; Malaysia were twelfth, India ninth and South Korea tenth. Hockey powerhouse Pakistan did not even make the finals for the first time in the nation’s history.
Many in Asia were bemoaning the shift in power and putting it down to the fact that the sport is now played on artificial pitches for the regions demise, but it has to be more than that.
India won six consecutive Olympic gold medals up until 1960, when it lost to Pakistan in the Gold medal match. It has won only two Gold medals since. Pakistan has won three Olympic golds, so between them they have won 11 of the 22 Gold medals contested for Hockey. The last was in 1984 when Pakistan won in Los Angeles.
When it comes to the World Cup which started in 1971 Pakistan have won four titles and India just one. The last coming in 1994 when Pakistan won in Sydney. South Korea who always punch above their weight when one looks at how few people play the sport, have only managed a silver in the Sydney Olympics and two fourth place finishes at the World Cup in 2002 and 2006.
Asia can take solace in the fact that Japan’s women are the World Champions and Olympic Silver medallists. They are ranked fourth in the World with Australia ninth and DPR Korea and China also in the top 15. In Hockey they have three teams in the top ten, China at fifth, Korea Republic at nine and Japan at tenth. India is the only other Asian nation in the top 15.
So why is Asia struggling to keep pace with Europe? These are certainly worrying times for the region and hopefully a solution can be found soon as sport needs Asian teams to perform as currently that is where the money is. Will that consumer support wane, or will they simply switch their allegiance. It will be interesting to see what the next four years holds for Asia in the world of sport.