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Wang Meng Meng
Monday, Jun 9, 2014

Sports

World Cup: Pressure on Asian nations to consolidate Cup status

The Straits Times | Wang Meng Meng | Monday, Jun 9, 2014

Only South Korea (L) and Japan (R) have twice emerged from their groups to reach the last 16, in 2002 and 2010.

Looking at the World Cup draw for Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea, many may wonder: Which will reach home first - the teams or their postcards?

While the motto of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is "The Future is Asia", the continent has yet to truly arrive at the Finals,in the manner that Cameroon and Roger Milla's hips captured global attention at Italia 90.

That moment could have come in 1994 when Saeed Owairan dribbled past five Belgians in 40 deg C heat in Washington before scoring the winner to send Saudi Arabia to the round of 16.

But since then, only Japan and South Korea have twice emerged from their groups to reach the last 16, in 2002 and 2010. Australia - now an AFC member nation - reached the last 16 in 2006 when they qualified for the Cup as part of Oceania.

In 2002, the Koreans made it to the semi-finals, finishing fourth, but as they eliminated first Italy and then Spain, there was lingering cynicism from the vanquished nations about referees favouring the Cup co-hosts.

Now, Iran are the top-ranked Asian team in Fifa's world table in 43rd place, three notches higher than Japan, while the Koreans are 57th and the Socceroos - the lowest-ranked country in this World Cup - are 62nd.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Going by that axiom, the Iranians could be in trouble. International sanctions over the country's nuclear programme meant that Carlos Queiroz's men have had no overseas training camps since they qualified for the Cupuntil travelling to Austria last month. Last year, they went four months without playing a friendly.

Iran have set up their World Cup base at a hotel in Sao Paulo International Airport. Perhaps, with Argentina on the horizon and motivated debutants Bosnia and African champions Nigeria favoured to get second spot, their location will be convenient for an early flight home.

Australia are probably out of their depth in Group B, facing the Netherlands, a talented Chile team and defending world and European champions Spain, sothe Socceroos might even lose all three games.

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