Asia will again not be on the World Cup quarterfinal map, but several upset victories have caused the continent to feel the gap with the top teams is closing.
Teams like Argentina, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Denmark tasted defeat at the hands of teams from the Asian confederation. Japan, South Korea and Australia all managed to emerge from the group stage with record representation in the round of 16, but none could match the 1966 North Korean team, which reached the quarterfinals.
However, they were battle teams, for example: Australia lost 2-1 to Argentina until the end of the match, Japan lost on penalties to Croatia after a 1-1 draw, and South Korea fought until the end despite concede four goals to Brazil.
“Brazil deserved to win, but what has happened to Korean soccer in the last four years has been extraordinary. We were very bold in the way we approached the game, even though we were low on energy, we were loyal to our style until the end,” South Korea coach Paulo Bento said after the 4-1 defeat.
The big disappointment was the performance of host nation and Asian champions Qatar, who looked out of their league throughout and were the only one of the six teams from the confederation to fail to record a win.
However, their neighbors Saudi Arabia turned the soccer world upside down when they came from behind to beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1 in their opener. The Saudis were unable to capitalize on that victory and departed after the group stage after two losses, but they will turn their attention to the upcoming Asian Cup with renewed confidence. Iran, perhaps distracted by the turmoil of anti-government protests at home, were beaten 6-2 by England in their opening match but restored their credibility with a 2-0 win over Wales before losing 1-0 to the United States.
It was left to East Asian sides Japan and South Korea, and South Australian appendage, which switched from the Oceanian confederation in 2006, to fly the Asian flag in the knockout rounds.
Japan stunned both Germany and Spain 2-1 to top a tough group, even after they themselves suffered a 1-0 upset at the hands of Costa Rica.
“Our victories over Spain and Germany, two of the best teams in the world, is something that gives us great confidence. Of course, there are many things we still have to learn, but we can win on the world stage. I believe that all the people involved in football in Asia and in Japan can share our happiness,” said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu.
South Korea’s never-give-up attitude earned them a last-gasp 2-1 win over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal that sealed their place in the round of 16, Hwang Hee-chan scoring in stoppage time to secure victory.
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