Asia Has More to Lose in South Africa Than Just Pride
Seoul, South Korea. Its not just Australia, South Korea, Japan and North Korea who are desperate to find out which teams they’ll face at the 2010 World Cup after Friday’s draw in Cape Town, the rest of Asian football is also on the hook.
After a dismal 2006 World Cup, when none of Asia’s representatives made it past the first round, the pressure is on the four regional qualifiers to impress at South Africa in June.
A repeat of the German disaster could put Asia’s 4.5 spots under threat, especially as African teams are expected to produce their best performance yet.
In September 2008, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter acknowledged that African teams could be in line for a more generous allocation.
“I do hope that with all the power of Africa behind them, we’ll see an African team in the semifinals,” Blatter said. “And if they get to the semifinals then why not go higher to the final? We will have to change the numbers but we’ll do it step-by-step.”
Europe, with 13 berths, has the most numbers to lose, but the continent provided all four semifinalists in 2006. Asia has no such record to protect it and needs success in South Africa.
The future of Asian allocations is not preying of the mind of those involved, however. Players and coaches are all looking no further ahead than the draw.
South Korea is the continent’s most successful World Cup team and will make a seventh successive appearance next summer. Coach Huh Jung-moo professes not to be worried about which teams he will face.
“There is no guarantee of a good result even when you play against teams that are thought to be weak,” he said. “For us, who we get in the draw is not a big deal. We just want to win against each team we play.”
Japan coach Takeshi Okada led the nation to three defeats in three 1998 World Cup matches. He has talked repeatedly about reaching the semifinal.
For many, the team that Europeans, Africans and South Americans may want in their group is North Korea.
Although North Korea has, unlike any of its continental rivals, reached the quarterfinal on foreign soil, defeating Italy in the first round of the 1966 World Cup, it is seen as the weakest Asian representative. A recent 4-1 loss in Zambia reinforced that idea.
Midfielder An Yong Hak will not be disappointed if that perception continues.
“I want to face big teams such as England, Spain and Brazil, who are very strong and have many famous players as well,” he said.
Australia qualified easily to the World Cup. Asia’s highest-ranked team, with almost all of the squad playing in Europe, it is thought by many to be Asia’s best hope.
In 2006, the Socceroos, then Oceania’s representative, made the last 16 but lost out to a last-minute and controversial penalty against eventual champion Italy.