Asia is refusing to give up on FIFA World Cup success despite its worst performance in 24 years when the four teams did not manage a win between them. South Korea’s 1-0 defeat to Belgium late on Thursday confirmed Asia's first winless showing since Italy 1990.
After South Korea followed Japan, Australia and Iran out of the competition, an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) statement called it “an abrupt end”. At the last World Cup in 2010, both Japan and South Korea reached the knock-out stages.
But AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa said despite the disappointment, the tournament was a valuable learning experience for Asian teams. “This World Cup serves as a lesson to all Asian nations,” he said in the statement.
“The Asian teams are rather young on average so they can only get better, but what is of particular importance now is that we stay united. Asia must acknowledge its shortcomings, but at the same time we must believe in our own ability. The AFC is determined to unlock the full potential of Asian football.”
The four teams scored just nine goals in 12 games. They conceded 25. Australia won the most credit for their defiant performances against Chile and the Netherlands, raising their hopes for the Asian Cup which they will host early next year.
Iran were booed for their 0-0 draw with Nigeria before being applauded for nearly achieving the same scoreline against Argentina, were it not for Lionel Messi’s late winner.
The biggest disappointment was the form of Asian champions Japan, who have players at top European clubs and were confident in their group against Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast. Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who quit after the Blue Samurai crashed out, said the age-old problem of physicality had been a factor.
“I think the culture of Japanese soccer and the special characteristics and technique of the players can cut it on the world stage but physical strength is what is lacking,” he said.
South Korean coach Hong Myung-Bo also pointed to physical problems. When asked how an Asian team could win the World Cup, he was vague. “Our players always have a dream but in order to realise this dream (to win the World Cup) we have to make a lot of efforts,” he said.
“In this World Cup we didn’t have good results. I think that each team played in a different style but overall I think there were a lot of deficiencies in Asian teams.” South Korea’s achievement in reaching the 2002 semi-finals appeared to announce Asia as a footballing force, but that performance remains the region’s high point.
AFC boss Shaikh Salman said he hopes new initiatives will bear fruit by the next FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018. “We must bring our game to the next level and there is no time to wait. Football will not slow down and nor will the rest of the world,” he said.
“Our brand new initiatives are planned with progress in mind, as we look to enhance the overall quality of our football, from infrastructure, commercial, competition to administration, and hopefully its effects are evident by the next World Cup.”