Finishing school for Asians

Four decades after Japan won bronze at Mexico City 1968, a milestone achievement which remains the best Asian result in Men's Olympic football, the continent's four hopefuls crashed out at the group stage.

Only four years ago, unfancied Iraq took the tournament by storm as they swept past the likes of Portugal and Morocco to reach the last four - the second-best result in Asia's Men's Olympic football history. With that fond memory still fresh, the four Asian teams, including hosts China, went into the competition with high hopes of emulating or surpassing the 2004 Iraqis.

"A medal would be enough to satisfy the Chinese people," said China coach Ratomir Dujkovic a month prior to the competition. Despite the expectations and the tremendous home support, the hosts were found wanting throughout, picking up only a point against 10-man New Zealand before suffering defeats at the hands of Belgium and Brazil.

"Our opponents are stronger than us both physically and technically, and the result reflects the disparity in the strengths of the two sides," China's executive coach Yin Tiesheng reflected after their 3-0 defeat by Brazil in the last group game.

Japan, whose Kunishige Kamamoto scored twice to seal a 2-0 victory over hosts Mexico in the 1968 bronze-medal game, packed for home empty-handed after three straight defeats. Australia fared a little better, holding Serbia 1-1 in their opener, but they could not find the net against Argentina or Côte d'Ivoire, losing 1-0 in both games.

Korea Republic, under coach Park Sung-Hwa, came the closest to booking a place in the quarter-finals after carving out a win over Honduras in their final group game - the only victory for Asia's four entrants.

"Asian teams usually fall short on the international stage, especially when we line up against Africans and Europeans," Park told "Asian players are pacy and flexible, but these advantages didn't cancel out the physical strength of our opponents."

Finishing problems
All the Asian sides admitted that their demise should largely be attributed to their inability in front of goal, with only 5 goals scored in a total of 12 games. All the Asians' creativity in the middle third came to nought, as nervousness and lack of precision in front of goal bedevilled their campaigns.

"We suffered from a lack of experience in the box, and we missed too many clear-cut chances," Japan coach Yasuharu Sorimachi glumly concluded after his team's 1-0 defeat by the Netherlands. "We've shown we are a decent attacking side, but our young players need to hone their finishing skills."

Sorimachi's views were echoed by his Australia counterpart Graham Arnold, who was quick to acknowledge the Olyroos' finishing problems after the 1-0 loss to Côte d'Ivoire. "We've had problems scoring with this team. This is generally a problem with all levels of Australia's national teams."

"Even against Brazil we created good chances, but our finishing problems made the difference. The lessons must be learned," concluded Yin Tiesheng.