Six teams went through to the final phase of Asian Zone qualifying, while as many sides had their hopes of reaching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ ended, over these past two intriguing matchdays. There was, therefore, contrasting emotions all over the continent.
Japan and Uzbekistan were the first nations into the final ten, beating Tajikistan and Korea DPR respectively on Friday to advance with two games to spare. And while the Uzbek media was highly complimentary of its players, the Japanese press chose to focus on the Samurai Blue’s subsequent result: a 1-0 loss to the North Koreans – their first defeat under Alberto Zaccheroni - yesterday.
Defender Yasuyuki Konno told the Japan Times. "We couldn't play the way we are used to for the majority of the 90 minutes. [Korea DPR] pretty much dominated us and it was pathetic. Obviously we have a lot of improving to do as a team."
It was a view shared by Japan's leading scorer Shinji Okazaki, who struck a late equaliser to salvage a point in Uzbekistan, before scoring a brace in their 4-0 win over Tajikistan. "We struggled during the last two away matches," he told the Mainichi Shimbun, "so this is something we need to put right."
The critics in Australia, meanwhile, appeared to be discontent with the national team's display in the 1-0 win over Thailand. In an article entitled ‘Sluggish Socceroos stay on road to Rio with tough win against Thais’, the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out: "Australia can celebrate progress to the next phase of the World Cup qualifying campaign, but those celebrations will be muted by the realisation that improvement is needed if the Socceroos are serious about being in Brazil."
Unlike Japan and Australia, who participated at the last four and two FIFA World Cups respectively, Jordan reached the last phase of Asian Zone qualifying for the first time. ADDustour Daily’s headline read ‘Al Nashama made history’, while Al-Rai Daily proclaimed ‘Jordan lead the Asian elite on the road to Brazil’.
Licking their wounds
Jose Camacho’s China PR were eliminated despite putting in their best performance so far with a 4-0 victory in Singapore. The Chinese media, whose national team will now miss out on a third consecutive FIFA World Cup, called for a focus on youth development with a view to appearing at the world finals in seven years’ time.
In an article titled ‘We still harbour dreams’, Xinhua News Agency wrote: "We mustn't lose our hopes despite the qualifying failure. We should now switch our focus on to youth development and the domestic league, so that we can bounce back in qualifying for Russia 2018."
There was also disappointment for Korea Republic, who, following a shock 2-1 loss to Lebanon yesterday, still require a point from their final Group B game against Kuwait to maintain their push for an eighth successive FIFA World Cup. News agency Yonhap criticised the team's lack of depth after the under-strength Taeguk Warriors’ defeat in Beirut.
It assessed: "As the coach admitted, there's so much difference between the sides with and without key players. Korea Republic had been one of the strongest sides in Asia since South Africa 2010, when two Parks (Ji-Sung and Chu-Young) and Double Dragon (Lee Chung-Yong and Ki Sung-Yueng) were all at their best, but now they need to learn how to play without the inspirational quartet."
Sports Seoul labelled Korea Republic’s February tussle with Kuwait “a guillotine match”. It added: “We are left with no option but to win. Only victory would secure passage to the next round as group winners ahead of Lebanon and Kuwait."