The preliminary qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ sparked unprecedented attention from Asian media, with footballing passion reignited among all sixteen participating countries. Not surprisingly, the eight triumphant teams sent their respective nations into raptures after advancing to the second qualifying round.
In the Philippines, celebrations took place throughout the country after their team prevailed over Sri Lanka 5-1 on aggregate to progress to the second round for the first time. Even Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino III took time to acknowledge the team's historic achievement.
"The entire nation was thrilled by the victory of our very own Philippine Azkals," the 51-year-old was quoted as saying by the state-run Philippines News Agency. "Truly, there is no place like home, as those gathered at the Rizal Memorial Stadium and who gathered before their TV sets today [Sunday] experienced," he remarked following the team's 4-0 victory in the return leg.
There were similar festivities in Nepal, where the national team’s 7-1 aggregate win over Timor-Leste has been warmly received by the local press. In an editorial entitled "History written", the Himalayan Times paid tribute to the team, who have progressed beyond the opening stage in FIFA World Cup qualification for the first time.
"For fans in the country, the Nepali booters provided a fitting start to their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign by defeating East-Timor convincingly," the article starts. "This is the first time that Nepal has moved on to the second round in six attempts since it participated in the World Cup qualifiers in 1985."
Palestine are another team in jubilant mood after their 1-1 second-leg draw with Afghanistan sent them through as 3-1 aggregate winners. Just as important as the result was the fact that this was their first-ever FIFA World Cup qualifier on home soil.
"Hearing the Palestinian national anthem on our territory is so good," Jibril Rajoub, President of both the Palestinian football federation and National Olympic Committee, was quoted as saying by sportsfeature.com. "It makes me feel so proud."
Some local media were encouraged enough to talk positively of the second qualifying round, where their respective teams will have to battle it out against higher-ranked opponents - including some of the continent’s big boys - over two legs on 23 and 28 July.
In a report entitled "Azkals itching to take on Kuwait" from Manila Times, Philippines coach Michael Weiss was confident about his side’s chances against Kuwait, who are 44 places above his team. He said: "The true test has come for us. It will gauge where we really are in football. I personally admit Kuwait is really strong and we need to step up, but the Azkals will do everything to qualify for the third round."
The optimistic atmosphere is not so evident in Malaysia, with the team's defensive leaks against Chinese Taipei still causing concern for coach Krishnasamy Rajagobal. Having lost their second leg 3-2 on Sunday, Malaysia qualified only on away goals.
"I'm not happy with how we played," Rajagobal told New Straits Times. "We need to fix our mistakes and get our confidence back. We have time to work on things until we play Singapore."