Monday, July 03, 2006


What chance do the Asians have

In Germany the last 8 featured 6 European and 2 South American countries while in the 2002 World Cup we were treated to 4 Europeans, 2 American, 1 African and 1 Asian, a tournament perhaps that truly deserved the name World Cup. Pele was famously quoted as saying an African team would win the solid gold trophy before the end of the 20th Century but to be fair who was sponsoring him then? In 2006 we are as far away as ever from an Asian or African team winning the Cup, even with 2010 being hosted in South Africa can we expect anyone to break the Latin/Euro stranglehold?

Quite frankly I don't care about Africa, let's look at Asia, a continent deemed to include Saudi Arabia and Australia and all points and pigmentations in between.

We'll start with Australia, arguably the best equipped side from Asia. Why? Simply they have the palyers with the experience of playing at the top level to go with the coach who's been there and done that. The domestic Aussie League may be as pants as it was when I was following St George and John Filan was a whippersnapper but then most of their national players play regularly in top quality leagues in Europe, be it England, Italy or even Scotland. Football is about passing and controlling the ball yes, but there's more. There's intuition, street smarts, being 'clever' and this can only come by playing at a high standard week in week out. Players like Viduak, Schwarzer, Kewell, they know the score.

South Korea has a booming economy, money to burn and scored 3 goals in Germany. One win, one draw and one defeat, they fell at the first hurdle but showed glimpses of potential. However their time is still to come. Having the big stars play for FC Seoul might encourage the babe factor on to the terraces but many more players need to follow Park ji Sung over to Europe and the big leagues. They need the experience the Australians have now but to be fair, and overlooking the 2002 World Cup, they maybe 4 or 5 tournaments away from regular Quarter Final appearancs. The current generation playing overseas will need to return and coach the future generations before they can be thought of as a major power away from Asia. And like South Korea, so to Japan and China.

What about Saudi Arabia? What about them? Bringing in international coaches to coach talent drawn from such a narrow pool as the domestic league shows having too much money can replace sensible forward planning. Their club sides are strong in Asian tournaments where they are supplemented by aging has beens from the west but until Saudi Arabia changes their narrow mindset and embraces the world they are going to be the Birmingham City of international football. Always bobbing around, liable to knicking the odd result but in reality just there to make up the numbers.

Ironically the country with the best potential for making an impact on the world stage is also the country least equipped at the moment to do so. Iranian players have made a great impression in Germany but their 'pariah' status on the world stage means the national side are deprived of regular quality opposition. If their potential could be unleashed they could become more than a big fish in the restrictive Asian pond.

Tomorrow I'll have a look at the region I am most interested, South East Asia, who have yet to provide a team for any World Cup (except 1938 but more about that later).

Laters ...

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