Asian teams in soccer’s World Cup show the way for China

The performances of the five Asian teams that made it to Russia did not involve luck or massive government funding programmes. Rather, they were the result of hard work, technique and strategy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 July, 2018, 2:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 July, 2018, 2:26am

Chinese soccer fans despondent about the chances of the national team ever again gracing a pitch at the World Cup can surely take inspiration from the current tournament in Russia.

Japan are through to the second round, South Korea defeated and knocked out reigning champions Germany, and Iceland – with a population of just 334,000 – qualified for the competition and even managed a draw against Argentina.

These achievements did not involve luck or massive government funding programmes. Rather, they were the result of hard work, technique and strategy.

Asian teams performed woefully at the last World Cup in Brazil in 2014, with none of the four qualifying winning a game. The five that took to pitches in Russia this year – Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia – have amply made up for it, with only the former failing to score an outright win.

Kylian Mbappe double sees France past Argentina in 4-3 thriller

How much further Japan go in the competition depends on their match with Belgium tomorrow. But the stand-out performance so far has been South Korea’s 2-0 trouncing of a lacklustre Germany; although the team failed to go through to the next stage of the competition, their players will go home with their heads held high and the goal scorers against Germany, Kim Young-gwon and Son Heung-min, heroes.

China’s only appearance at a World Cup was in 2002, but the team failed to score a goal. That year the competition was jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea and both countries made it to the round of 16, with the South making the semi-finals and finishing fourth.

The South’s performance that year equalled that of North Korea in 1966, proving that Asian teams have the ability to take on the world’s best and even defeat them. It is no secret that what it takes is teamwork.

Many excuses have been made for why China has been unable to come up with 11 world-class players from a population of 1.38 billion. They range from insufficient pitches to players being outmuscled by foreigners to a lack of technique and not understanding the fundamentals of the game.

President Xi Jinping, a soccer fan, expressed three wishes in 2015: for China to qualify for another World Cup; to host one; and to win one in 30 years. The performances of Asian teams in Russia are pause for reflection.