While Asia would like to forget the 2014 World Cup, the lessons from Brazil need to live strong and long in its memory.
None of the four billion or so in the continent expected the entire quartet to go to Brazil and stay until the very end of the tournament but to have all four board their flights home straight after the group stages was shocking.
Even worse was the fact that these were not close eliminations. Iran, Australia, South Korea and Japan finished bottom of their groups, collecting just three points among them. There are few positives to take from such a performance though as Bahrain national team coach Anthony Hudson believes that the continent should not be judged as one entity.
“It’s very difficult to give a blanket statement,” Hudson told Al Jazeera. “Iran gave a great account of themselves in an incredibly difficult group. Australia were superb in what was, for me, the toughest group of all. They were excellent against Holland and Chile, two of the best teams in the world right now.”
The defence was weak and Korea, like Japan, lacked leadership and organisation
Iran drew their opening game with Nigeria and then pushed Argentina all the way in the second game. After a tight first half, Team Melli had chances to win and could have done had the referee awarded a second half penalty. As it was, it took an injury time piece of magic from a certain Lionel Messi to win the game.
Australia, a team in transition, give a good account of themselves and could have taken something from Chile and the Netherlands before being swept aside by a Spain determined not to lose all three games.
But it is about expectations. It would have been a surprise even in Tehran and Sydney had the two teams progressed. In Tokyo and Seoul, however it was very different. The two East Asian giants reached the knockout stage twice in the previous three tournaments, taking plenty of plaudits along the way.
So often the vanguard of Asian football, the pair’s performances have set the narrative when it came to Asia at this World Cup.
Japan threw away a lead against Ivory Coast and never recovered from that defeat. Korea started more brightly, drawing against Russia before collapsing to a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Algeria. Both went on to lose their final games.
“I expected a lot more from Japan and South Korea as they have some top players and a good history at this level,” said Hudson. “They will need to analyse their own situation.”
In Korea, plenty of that is going on.
|South Korea reached the knockouts twice in the last three World Cups [GALLO/GETTY]|
“Too many players were not in good form or not playing for their clubs and that showed,” Seoul-based sports writer Oh Ban-seok said. “The coach made some tactical and selection mistakes. The defence was weak and Korea, like Japan, lacked leadership and organisation.”
Japan, as Asian champions and the continent’s biggest hopes, is still digesting the Brazilian failure. Before the tournament, star man Keisuke Honda talked of winning the trophy.
As well as experience coaching in Japan’s J-League, Pim Verbeek took Australia to the 2010 World Cup and South Korea to the 2007 Asian Cup. The Dutchman told Al Jazeera that part of the failure was down to preparation.
“My opinion is that Japan was not really tested in the build-up games,” Verbeek said. “It is nice for the fans to play against easy opponents, but as a coach you learn nothing from these matches. Plus that there is also the possibility that players and fans get overconfident.”
Already in Japan, the debate is moving on from what went wrong to how can we ensure that it doesn’t go wrong the next time.
Alberto Zaccheroni, who spent almost four years at the helm, has departed and the Japan FA has been talking to former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre. Verbeek, who has also coached in the country’s J-League, believes that the 2015 Asian Cup, to take place in January, offers a perfect opportunity to look to the future.
“If you look at the age of most of the players then it shows that most of the players will be on their best in 2018 but history shows also that it is good to bring fresh blood into a selection,” said Verbeek.
“Maybe Japan can use the 2015 Asian Cup to give some new young players international experience. Add some of the players who did well at the London Olympics and Japan should be strong enough to win this tournament.”
Winning the Asian Cup will be just the first step as Japan and the continent’s other big guns need to show they can shine on the global stage too.
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