While most people in Australia are focussing on the performance of the Socceroos in Brazil should they be looking at the bigger picture?
Australia is now a part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and its path to the world cup is through Asia, but Asia is struggling and that could spell danger for Australia.
When South Korea and Japan hosted the 2002 World Cup Asian teams produced their best performances, with Japan eliminated in the round of 16 and South Korea under Guus Hiddink becoming the first Asian team to make the semi finals. They ended up finishing fourth losing 3-2 to Turkey.
Four years later in Germany none of the four Asian teams that qualified, Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and South Korea made it out of their pools; Australia of course qualified via Oceania.
In South Africa in 2010, Japan and South Korea made it through the group stage while Australia and North Korea flew home. Japan and South Korea were both eliminated in their next games.
In the AFC 43 teams took part in the qualifying competition and only four made it to Brazil. Asia only has four qualification spots at the World Cup and a chance for a fifth via a play off. CONCACAF (Central and North America) currently has three slots, while CONEMBOL (South America) has four – five with host Brazil in 2014, – while CAF (Africa) has five places. CAF has been pushing for more places based on the quality of teams vying for World Cup finals spots in their Confederation, and many feel they have a valid case. The question is which Confederation will miss out? South America too wants and extra berth, but will probably remain with four. Central and North America’s three is adequate when judged against their representative teams performances. That leaves Asia in a very vulnerable position.
If two Asian teams manage to progress through the group stage at this year’s event the play off slot maybe all that is lost. If no teams make it through Asia could well see one of its qualification slots disappear, but it will keep its play off option.
There is plenty at stake for the Asian teams at this year’s World Cup, there were rumblings four years ago and now with FIFA elections in the offing this qualification issue could well tip the balance of power at the top of the game. However if Asian teams perform it will make it harder to make a case for their finals berths to be reduced.
With this as a backdrop it makes the games involving Asian teams have an added meaning.