For Asia and Oceania, the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will in future years be seen as a watershed tournament. For the first time on foreign soil, two Asian nations progressed beyond the group stage, and only goal difference prevented Australia from making it three. New Zealand meanwhile, appearing on the world stage for the first time in 28 years, achieved the unthinkable by returning home undefeated - the only team at the tournament to achieve this distinction. Now the challenge is for these two continents to maintain the momentum in the international and domestic arenas. On both fronts, it promises to be a busy period ahead, particularly in Asia, where January will witness the AFC Asian Cup contested in Qatar.
Despite receiving little acclaim going into South Africa 2010, the four Asian representatives, plus Oceania’s lone flag-bearer, earned global recognition for their achievements on the world’s toughest toughest football stage. Japan and Korea Republic displayed their true qualities in reaching the Round of 16, and with a modicum of luck Australia could have easily become the third Asian representative.
Despite an erratic build-up campaign, Japan claimed impressive group wins over both Cameroon and Denmark before falling to Paraguay on penalties in the Round of 16. Korea Republic also shone during the group stage only to fall victim to a Luiz Suarez sucker-punch ten minutes from time in a Port Elizabeth downpour as Uruguay snatched victory despite the Taeguk Warriors seeming to have all the late momentum.
But for their emphatic opening match defeat to Germany, Australia would have completed a trio of Asian nations in the last 16. The Socceroos fell short of a second consecutive qualification only on goal difference, with that 4-0 defeat to Die Nationalmannschaft ultimately coming back to haunt them. Korea DPR, meanwhile, finished bottom of what was tagged the ‘group of death’, suffering heavy defeats against both Portugal and Côte d’Ivoire. However, their narrow 2-1 loss to Brazil in the group opener, including a fine goal from Ji Yun-Nam, underlined the team’s tenacity and fighting spirit.
As for New Zealand, Oceania's sole representatives should reap a major long-term benefit from their South African success story. Incredibly, the All Whites return home as the only undefeated nation among the 32-team field, thanks to three draws against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay. Interest in the national team reached unprecedented heights despite the matches being played in the dead of night, and hopes are high that football, which enjoys significant grassroots strength, can prosper even further in what is traditionally a Rugby stronghold.
Each of the four Asian nations from the 2010 FIFA World Cup will have the chance to battle for continental supremacy next January when the AFC Asian Cup is held in Qatar. Australia, Japan and Korea Republic will face a level of rebuilding with some change of squad personnel, while each have also seen their respective coaches from South Africa 2010, Pim Verbeek, Takeshi Okada and Huh Jung-Moo, step down. Some nations will also have to make do without long-serving players due to international retirement, with Japan’s Shunsuke Nakamura and Australia’s Craig Moore among the key names to bid farewell to the international arena.
The 16-nation tournament also features Korea DPR for the first time in five editions of the quadrennial tournament. Looking to re-establish themselves after disappointing showings in qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be west Asian heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia, who will hope to flourish in the familiar conditions on offer in Qatar. Much focus will also be on India, with the world’s second-most populous nation competing at the tournament for just the third time.
New Zealand, meanwhile, have moved up to 54 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking announced this week, and are now within touching distance of their all-time highest position.
A number of players have been on the move in recent weeks, with perhaps the most intriguing transfer involving hard-working Korea DPR striker Jong Tae-Se, who has signed for Germany’s Bochum. The man nicknamed the ‘People’s Rooney’ will become one of the few North Koreans to play in Europe, having joined from J.League club Kawasaki Frontale.
Korea Republic defender Cha Du-Ri has joined national team colleague Ki Sung-Yueng at Celtic, while Japan defender Yuto Nagatomo has committed his future to newly-promoted Serie A club Cesena. Australia’s speedy young striker Nikita Rukavytsya has departed Twente Enschede for Hertha Berlin, while veteran midfielder Mark Bresciano joins Lazio from Palermo.
Elsewhere, New Zealand’s prolific striker Shane Smeltz, scorer of the All Whites' goal against Italy, has departed A-League club Gold Coast United to join Chinese Super League outfit Shandong Luneng.
Back to business
Asia’s premier club competition, the AFC Champions League, will resume in September with the remaining eight clubs looking to claim victory, and with it a place at the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup. Similarly, the next edition of the OFC O-League kicks-off in October, with Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United already having qualified to face the world’s best in Abu Dhabi this December following victory in last year's continental showpiece.
On the domestic front, both the K-League and J.League have resumed after a mid-season hiatus for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The sixth season of the Australian A-League will commence next month, with new club Melbourne Heart joining the fray for a newly expanded 11-team league.
On the other side of the continent, much focus will be on the United Arab Emirates, where former FIFA World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro has linked up with Al Ahli, as has former Leeds United coach David O'Leary, with the pair aiming to reclaim the title from Al Wahda.