A growing and brighter future continues to be predicted for Asian football but top officials are warning that much more needs to be done to the continent to close the gap between the continent and the top of the game.
Asia’s top coaches and administrators have declared solid progress for the sport in recent years after a thorough analysis of the achievements of the Asian teams at the recent FIFA World Cup™ finals in South Africa.
But at the same time, the theme of the FIFA/AFC Conference on the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, held in Kuala Lumpur for three days over the weekend, consistently warned more work was needed to keep up the march.
Speakers urged the assembled audience of national team coaches and technical directors to continue striving for excellence and to chase an objective of making Asia more competitive at world events.
While participants celebrated progress of two of its four World Cup representatives past the first round of the competition – the first time that had been achieved outside of the 2012 FIFA World Cup held in Asia – there was a realisation that much more remained achievable.
“This World Cup marked an attempt to modernise and professionalise our football,” said Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam in his opening remarks.
“This continent continues to show that nothing is impossible and there is nothing it cannot do. Coaches have proved they can achieve,” he said ahead of a panel discussion including coaches of all four of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers – Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Korea DPR.
“Asia is the coming force of football and there has been a lot of hard work over the last eight years to change the face of football on the continent.”
Kim Jong Hun, who led Korea DPR to their first finals since 1966, spoke of the intensive preparation of his squad and their strong emphasis on physical fitness.
Park Tae-Ha, the assistant coach of Korea Republic, spoke at length of the influence in their squad of the growing band of players from his country who have moved to top European clubs, like Park Ji Sung and Lee Chung Yong.
“They bring a mental toughness to our team that we did not have before,” Park asserted at the conference in Malaysia.
Members of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa technical study group also gave a frank assessment of the four teams, highlighting good organisation, strong defensive capabilities and sound tactical planning. “What Asian football perhaps lacks is a little bit of the creativity that you get elsewhere in the world, a little spark of magic,” said Jim Selby, the newly appointed AFC director of technical.
Coaches spent hours also workshopping several key topics among themselves before presenting their suggestions to FIFA and the AFC.
Recommendations on issues like the proper exploitation of the potential of Asian football, its major challenges, a co-ordinated international calendar that better fits with the Asian demands and successful youth development programmes elicited strong debate.
“We have many challenges in Asia, it’s a big continent,” said Qatar’s director of coaching Ahmad Omer. “Some countries are very rich, others still developing. We have players but need more talent among the coaches and administrators. To go to the top we need to professionalise.”
The conference also received presentations on the tactical changes seen at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa; the model of organisation at the highly-regarded Japan Football Association; an insight into successful youth programmes from the German Football Association and lectures from Spain’s football federation on how their team set about planning their ultimately successful assault on the FIFA World Cup.
Gines Melendez, National Coaching School Director, and Javier Minano, fitness trainer of the national team, did separate presentations, which were of great benefit to the audience of coaches.
“It was very enlightening, a most enjoyable experience,” commented Joseph Gabriel, coaching director of the All India Football Federation.