After several years of hard work, grueling traveling schedules and thorough preparations, Asia produced four World Cup qualifiers – Japan, Australia, South Korea and Iran. The fact that none of these four sides picked up a victory in a combined total of 12 matches played between them highlights the decline of soccer in the region. In conjunction to this, Jordan lost their World Cup play-off decider by an aggregate score of 0-5 to Uruguay. Standards are clearly slipping.
So what exactly are the factors for this decline?
1. Lack of competition
It’s necessary to look at the level of competition these teams face. Living in China, it is easy to see why they are failing to find or produce 11 players of sufficient quality in a nation of 1 billion. There is an alarming lack of recreational facilities. The cost of renting a pitch is also sky high. Furthermore, kids spend most of their youths endlessly doing exams and trying to increase their schooling. For those who subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory, these two factors greatly diminish the chances of somewhere like China, India or South Korea producing players of a sufficient standard to compete in the World Cup. Simply put, young people have nor the time, money or facilities to get to the required level.
2. Match fixing
The match fixing syndicates have badly damaged the game in Asia. Most of these shadowy figures come from places such as Macau and Singapore. Corruption is ever present in society in Asia as it is in the rest of the world and this has inevitably wormed its way into soccer in the region in the form of match fixing. Again taking China as an example, the culture of not losing “face” is prevalent. Since face has been lost, soccer has lost significant ground to other sports such as basketball.
3. Poor domestic leagues
The standards of the domestic leagues are not good enough and this is intertwined with the poor level of coaching in populous soccer crazy countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. The Middle East has some rich soccer history and has produced good players in the past. Iranian soccer suffers severely from sanctions and has resorted to playing ultra defensive soccer that will not get them very far in the long run.
Similarly in the Far East and Australia, the domestic leagues have serious problems and there is a lack of quality. Guangzhou Evergrande are the champions of Asia, but the rely mainly on a Brazilian named Elkeson to score the goals, who was nowhere near the Brazil set up even if Fred and Jo are there main strikers. In addition to this, Guangzhou coach Marcello Lippi has claimed his South Korean centre half Kim, is “good enough to play for Manchester United”. Not on the evidence of this World Cup, particularly the Algeria match. The competition is just not good enough – the reasons being outlined above.
4. Too few footballers play abroad