With a record 6 teams, Asia redefines its World Cup goals
At the first World Cup in the Middle East, Europe, with 13, will be the only continent with more teams represented.
Hosting of Qatar from 21 Nov.-Dec. 18 tournament added to Asia’s usual four automatic qualifying spots occupied by Saudi Arabia, Japan, Iran and South Korea.
“It is indeed Asia time and there is no better way to mark this celebration than with the qualification of a record six teams for the FIFA World Cup for the first time in our history,” Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa said. . He hopes 2022 will show a marked improvement over Asia’s performance in 2018.
With just over five months to go, the signs are mixed.
Japan was shaping up to be the best hope. A narrow 1-0 home defeat to Brazil on June 6 was sandwiched between 4-1 wins over Paraguay and Ghana. But on Tuesday, Hajime Moriyasu’s men lost 3-0 at home to Tunisia.
“The result was disappointing,” said Moriyasu, but added that the friendlies gave him the opportunity to try out different formations. “It will help in the future and I will use it as a stepping stone to improve.”
Japan start and end Group E against Germany and Spain with the middle game against Costa Rica, who edged New Zealand on Tuesday for the last of 32 places in the draw for Qatar.
Saudi Arabia finished ahead of Japan and Australia in qualifying but lost earlier this month to Colombia and Venezuela, two South American teams that did not qualify. That leaves Saudi Arabia’s Group C opener against Argentina a bad omen.
“The players are tired after a long season and the coach (Hervé Renard) has tried different strategies and we hope to take advantage of them,” said Saudi FA president Yasser Al-Mishael. The Saudis plan to have six or seven more friendlies. “September training camp will be focused on correcting mistakes and preparing for the World Cup.”
Iran are set to play England, USA and Wales in Group B, but the team’s only game since qualifying was Algeria in Doha on Monday and ended in defeat 2-1. The Qatar team, who have never been to the World Cup before, haven’t seen much international action.
Australians have had their ups and downs. After winning 11 consecutive qualifying matches in the second round and the start of the third round of Asian qualifying, the Socceroos recorded just one victory in seven games to finish third in their group.
The Socceroos beat the United Arab Emirates 2-1 in the Asian qualifiers last week. Six days later at the same stadium in Qatar on Monday, the Socceroos qualified for a fifth straight World Cup after beating South America’s fifth-placed Peru 5-4 on penalties.
The reward is a place in Group D and games against defending champions France, Tunisia and Denmark.
South Korea, competing in a 10th consecutive World Cup, began their rise to prominence with a heavy 5-1 loss to Brazil in Seoul on June 2. The results improved as the Taeguk Warriors beat Chile 2-0, drew 2-2 with Paraguay and then went on to beat. Egypt 4-1.
The South Koreans, who beat Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain on a remarkable run to the semi-finals on home soil in 2002, will play in Group H against Uruguay, Portugal and Ghana in Qatar.
“The biggest positive to take away is how the players reacted against Chile after the loss to Brazil and how they fought back 2-0 against Paraguay,” said South Korean coach Paulo Bento. “We still have work to do.”
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