World Cup 2014: What chance do the Asian teams have in Brazil?
Asian teams have struggled to make an impact at the World Cup, aside from the 2002 South Korea side who advanced to the semi-finals.
Brazil 2014 seems to find three of the four Asia representatives at something less than their best, with the fourth, Japan, perhaps in best position to survive group play and perhaps even survive to the final eight.
A closer look at the Asian Football Confederation foursome:
Ange Postecoglou’s young squad touched down in Brazil this week to be the first team to arrive for the World Cup finals but it may have been more about guaranteeing an extended stay in South America as the Socceroos are not expected to be around for long.
Australia are considered the weakest team in a Group B containing the 2010 World Cup finalists Spain and the Netherlands, as well as Chile, and have the lowest standing of the 32 countries competing with a world ranking of 59.
Despite qualifying for a third successive finals, the squad is short on World Cup experience with a roster that includes several rookies.
With the likes of Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Brett Holman and Brett Emerton retired or not selected, much will depend on older hands Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano, Josh Kennedy and Luke Wilkshere.
Postecoglou’s decision to rejuvenate the team could be costly in the short term, though it should serve Australia well long term – particularly as they host the Asian Cup next year.
The side’s domestic players will be better for their inclusion, but Brazil will not be a wholly enjoyable experience for them.
Australia have had three attempts at the World Cup and are yet progress past the last 16. It is hard to see that changing here, although the players have promised to use their underdog tag as motivation.
Key player: Tim Cahill. The former Everton midfielder is Australia’s all-time leading scorer and still their chief attacking threat. His experience – this is his third World Cup – will be vital.
High moment: Having narrowly missed out on the three previous World Cups by losing play-offs, Australia’s presence in Germany in 2006 was enough in itself for celebration. Yet Guus Hiddink’s men finished second in their group and qualified for the last 16. Their progression was made possible by an opening 3-1 victory against Japan, their first win on the world stage.
Prediction: Hard to see where they will get points from in a strong Group B. Should finish bottom.
As typically seems to be the case, Iran enter this World Cup with matters away from the pitch overshadowing chances of success on it. Asia’s best-rated team – a Fifa world ranking of 37 – are also the finals’ most ill-prepared, with politics and a lack of funds minimising their competitive action.
In the year since they qualified for Brazil, Iran have played largely against sides they should easily beat. They usually struggle to score goals, too, although a solution has been found in Reza Ghoochannejhad, their Dutch-raised striker.
It is not all bad for West Asia’s first World Cup participants in eight years, though, as they have a vastly experienced coach in Carlos Queiroz. The Portuguese has made his side rigid and robust, and his renowned motivational skills will be tested throughout.
Group F appears to have an obvious winner – Argentina – so Iran will battle for second place with Nigeria and Bosnia Herzegovina. To progress they need to improve on a poor World Cup record: in three appearances, they have one victory.
Much depends on the midfield axis of Javad Nekounam and Andranik Teymourian.
Queiroz, who will move on after the tournament, has taken the national team forward and he often speaks of potential and progress, of learning and legacy. Should Iran make it out of their group, that legacy will be sealed.
Key player: Reza Ghoochannejhad. Seen as the answer to Iran’s long-standing striking dilemma, he was born in Mashhad but grew up in the Netherlands. Scored nine goals in his first 11 matches.
High moment: Set against the backdrop of long-running political tensions, Iran took on the USA at France 1998. Having exchanged gifts on the pitch before the match, Iran ran out 2-1 victors, granting them their only triumph at a finals. They finished third in their group, one place above their American rivals.
Prediction: Iran will view second place in the group as attainable, but will struggle against Nigeria, which will be key to their chances. Another early exit.
Easily Asia’s best hope of a successful Brazilian campaign and the hands-down winner for the title for the continent’s most exciting team. They were the first nation in the world to punch their ticket to Brazil and are a compact and composed outfit, with a style that is pleasing on the eye.
Their playmakers, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, are the engineers of some well-crafted football, while set-piece expert Yasuhito Endo and striker Shinji Okazaki carry a considerable goal threat.
In Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan have a wily old coach. The Italian’s greatest task, though, will be to make sure his side’s attacking focus does not leave the defence vulnerable.
Japan have had problems there in the recent past, but matched their opponents up front or simply outscored them, as evidenced last November in a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands and a 3-2 triumph against Belgium.
They contest an even-looking Group C with Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece, in what will be their fifth consecutive finals and have their best opportunity to finally make it to the quarter-finals, where potential opponents must treat them with cautious respect.
Key player: Keisuke Honda. The playmaker stands out for his bleach-blonde hair and his exquisite attacking thrust. Japan’s play centres around the AC Milan midfielder.
High moment: Impressed on home soil in 2002, when they opened with a draw against Belgium before successive victories clinched top spot in the group. Japan had done the country proud, but then were unlucky to narrowly lose a tense last-16 clash with Turkey, who eventually finished third.
Prediction: Japan should qualify from their group and run their rivals in the last 16 close, but that will be the end of their tournament.
Serial World Cup contestants, the class of 2014 is significantly more difficult to assess than its predecessors. As always, the Koreans are energetic and enthusiastic, but the traditionally strong qualifiers just managed to seal an automatic berth in Brazil. They finished second behind Iran and coach Choi Kang-hee tendered his resignation.
So in came Hong Myung-ho, the first Asian to appear in four World Cup finals, who had captained his country, on home soil, to a historic fourth-place finish at the 2002 tournament.
Under Hong, Korea initially struggled, but an encouraging sequence of results has suggested that a corner has been turned. In particular, the victory against Switzerland last November provided renewed hope for this World Cup. Korea were authoritative and inventive.
Performances since have been erratic, although Hong has experimented with what seems a transitional squad. Then, at last Wednesday’s grand send-off before they departed for a training camp in Florida, Korea stumbled to a home defeat to Tunisia. Hong hopes it was a wake-up call.
Making their eighth World Cup appearance, Korea are seeking to emulate their 2010 display and qualify for the knockout stages. Belgium are favourites in Group H, with Russia and Algeria making up the other spots. If Korea are to stand any chance of advancing, a positive result in the opener against Russia is vital. They finally have scorers in Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-Cheol, Kim Shin-wook and Lee Keun-ho, but finding a balance in defence may be their greatest conundrum.
Key player: Son Heung-min – the Bayer Leverkusen forward – has proven talent and can operate through the middle or on the flanks. Has excelled in Germany and gets goals.
High moment: An easy one. As co-hosts in 2002, little was expected; South Korea had never won a match. But buoyed by fervent home support, they qualified from their group and then defeated Italy and Spain. Germany ended a dream run in the semis.
Prediction: Korea’s chances depend on the encounter with Russia, who should have too many guns for their opponents. Third place appears most likely.
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Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM