PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2006, 12:00am

Stuttgart: Asia is home to more than half the world's population, but it gets only get 41/2 places, out of 32, at the World Cup. Does it deserve this? Sadly the answer must be no, going on their performances in Germany.

All four Asian sides - South Korea, Japan, Iran and Saudi Arabia - will have returned home by the time you read this. Apart from the Koreans, who played with heart and courage, the other three underperformed.

After the highs of the 2002 World Cup, the early departures of the region's representatives raises worrying questions as to the health of the game in Asia.

By failing to reach the second round, the benchmark of success for Asian sides, the sword of Damocles is hanging perilously over the Asian Football Confederation. When it comes to the next World Cup, Fifa will have to decide whether to give an extra place to Africa and whether Asia has to make the sacrifice. The Africans have asked for five qualifying places in 2010. This is apart from the berth reserved for hosts South Africa. So in effect they want six, one more than their allocation this time. If Fifa president Sepp Blatter agrees to this, that berth is likely to be the one reserved for Asia and Concacaf, who play off for it.

Trinidad and Tobago took that spot this time.

With Australia now in the picture, the future looks pretty bleak for the rest of the Asian nations. The Aussies will be favourites to win one berth and this will leave the rest of Asia's football associations, around 40, scrambling for three places.

The pie is getting smaller for Asia. We are being left behind. While the standard of the game is getting better in other parts of the world, Germany has highlighted the sorry state of Asian football, which is lacking in physical attributes as well as technical knowhow.

Looking to the future, Korean coach Dick Advocaat said the only way it could progress was for the country to improve its local league where playing standards are so low that the country's leading players have to look overseas to advance their careers.

In terms of fitness, Korea were one of the best sides here, but fitness alone is not enough to create goals, or break down organised defences like Switzerland's. To do this they need players with creative talents and the vision to make things happen. The talent pool is limited - and that is why Advocaat is advocating a stronger local league.

Japan, meanwhile, have a strong and competitive J.League. But they muddled their way through the World Cup. Zico, their Brazilian coach, put his side's early exit down to eight nightmare minutes against Australia - when the Japanese defence self-destructed by conceding three goals.

'We just didn't have the players capable of matching the big and physical Australians, and Croatia later on,' said Zico in his summation. Japan-watchers might query this statement for several big players were left at home.

Despite the presence of veteran Sam Al Jabar, Saudi Arabia looked out of their depth. The best that Iran could manage was a 1-1 draw with finals debutants Angola. For Asia's teams, Germany 2006 was a forgettable experience.

Number of the day - one. The number of Asian teams who qualified for the second round - Australia - and they qualified as Oceania's representatives this time.

'With Australia now in the picture, the future looks bleak for the rest of the Asian nations'