Dr. Josef Venglos has established himself as modern football's technical expert par excellence since first heading up FIFA's Technical Study Group (TSG) in 2002. The former Czech national team boss also led UEFA's technical Study Group during Euro 2004, and soon after was appointed head of the AFC's TSG for the 2004 Asian Cup in China.
Having exhaustively studied all 16 teams in training and full match play at the latest instalment of the Asian Cup, Dr. Venglos is of the belief that Asian football has improved steadily since the breakthrough performances of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. FIFA.com caught with the technical guru to discuss the reasons behind the continent's rapid progress and the improvements on hand at China 2004.
FIFA.com: What is your general impression of Asian football?
Dr. Josef Venglos: There is no question that football in Asia has made significant and huge improvements in the past two years, boosted by their tremendous success at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. In this Asian Cup, there is not too much between the teams. All the sides are strong and each of them fought to the very last minute, giving the seeded teams and favourites a difficult time getting the upper hand.
While the traditional powerhouses continued to impress, Asian Cup debutants Oman, Jordan and Turkmenistan showed great ability during the tournament, and even old underdogs Indonesia and Thailand proved no pushovers as they have rarely done before. It is also notable that a lot of young players have emerged to prove the continent's football future is full of potential.
Put another way, the competition is fiercer than before?
Definitely. You can see that through Saudi Arabia's early, group-stage exit. The three-time Asian Cup champions were eliminated after losses to "underdogs" Uzbekistan and Iraq. Cup holders and eventual champions Japan also struggled against both Jordan and Bahrain in the knockout stage and it was only their experience and never-say-die attitude that finally saw them through.
In the quarter-finals, three of the four matches went to extra time. The increasing toughness and competitiveness, of course, testifies to the continent's steady progress in footballing terms.
|Josef Venglos speaks|
But what is the cause: tactics, technique?
Firstly the Asian teams move more effectively than in the past. Also mentality and organisation have improved immensely. There was great coordination, invention and cooperation in both attack and defence to be seen at the Asian Cup. Advanced footballing strategies and discipline are beginning to be allied with the ever-present natural ability and talent.
Could these improvements be attributed to Asia's foreign coaches?
In a general sense, yes. We see most Asian teams have foreign coaches at the helm and these coaches bring tremendous experience, advanced understanding and sound coaching ability, which is crucial for developing teams. But in the long run, of course, Asia must develop and empower their own qualified coaches.
Could you name any of these coaches?
All the coaches working in Asia have made their contributions. Milan Macala has done a good job with Oman. Despite exiting at the group stage, Oman impressed with their performances against Japan and Iran. They showed precocious attacking ability in the match with Iran, where they were two goals up in the first half. I see good preparation; improvements in team work and fine mutual understanding between the coach and players in this team.
How do your rate the players?
A lot of players impressed in this competition. Asia never lacks talent and natural ability. But this time we saw some more-complete players emerging. They not only impressed with their skills and technique, but also with their mentality, courage, and leadership.
Japan's Nakamura was crucial for his team's defence of the title. With several European-based stars missing, the under-strength holders still showed their class to take the honours. Though they struggled at points, Nakamura did a brilliant job to take care of organising attack through the midfield.
China's defender Zheng Zhi is also such a player. He helped keep his teammates calm, creating a steady defence, while also scoring crucial goals at critical moments. He also showed his versatility, even pushing up front as a striker on occasion.
So what is Asian football to you?
Asia is the largest and most populous continent in the world, and football in all countries of Asia see different levels of development with various defining characteristics. Generally Asian football can be divided into four different schools accordingly, West Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and ASEAN.
With different environments, conditions and development, we see all these teams play with their own individual styles, which enrich the vibrant tapestry of football of the continent. Asia's footballing potential is boundless.
But would it be fair to say that an Asian team need to reach the semi-finals at Germany 2006 to prove their success at Korea/Japan 2002 was no fluke?
The measurement of football development can't be just limited to one or two results. It is a fact that Asian teams today play with more competitiveness, better technique and tactics, and there are more and more Asian players who impress and move to Europe. Such a trend certainly represents the steady and healthy progress of Asian football. And as long as Asian teams are progressing and competing with world powers, they are on the right track.