Asian nations have been an integral part of FIFA World Cups since long; they bring the much needed vibrancy and exoticism to the World Cup, and they aren’t slouch competitors either. Asian countries haven’t dominated the world game as they would’ve expected, but they provide more than a thorn in the flesh for the established order. SportzWiki analyzes the three Asian teams, viz, Japan, South Korea, and Iran, as they look forward to a good World Cup in Brazil.
The Blue Samurai are the highest-ranked Asian team at the World Cup, and would be aiming to make significant strides. Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni has instilled newer ethos, and Japan have become more and more disciplined under the wily Italian. Ranked 46th in the world, Japan would look to upset quite a few big boys but they are up in a very open group comprising of South American upstarts Colombia, African powerhouses Ivory Coast and a stubborn Greece. Their initial quest would be to progress through the cosmopolitan group, and it could be easier said than done for Zaccheroni’s men.
Japan’s strength throughout history has been their technical ability. The Japanese are extremely hard-working, and are quick and full of running. The arrival of Zaccheroni has instilled some Italian steel into the system, but Japan’s greatest asset will obviously be their ability to work tirelessly on and off the ball.
In spite of their technical prowess, Japan has always struggled against bigger opposition and always seems to run out of ideas whenever they concede first or the match stretches beyond normal time. Japan’s lack of big game experience almost always seem to derail them, as seen in their exit to Paraguay in 2010 on penalties.
Japan has quite a few big names on their books, with half of their 23-man squad plying trades in the big European leagues. Zaccheroni will look to field a conventional 4-2-3-1, with a double pivot preferred because of the attacking outlets provided by the full-backs Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo. The experienced captain Makoto Hasebe and the young box-to-box Cerezo Osaka midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi will look to knit the team tight and protect the back. The trio of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Yasuhito Endo will play between the lines and be the creators for experienced attacker Shinji Okazaki. Overall, the team looks balanced on paper, and with Zaccheroni in charge, they can be expected to go far with some semblance of intelligence and tactical flexibility.
The Taeguk Warriors are in their eighth consecutive FIFA World Cup finals, and they are the Asian team to have gone farthest in a World Cup, having reached the semi-finals at home in 2002 and eventually finishing in fourth place. South Korea has invested in domestic blood, with their current coach Hong Myungbo a Korean native. South Korea will fancy their chances in an easy group of Belgium, Russia and Algeria. They are expected to qualify from their group without much hiccup, but they could be found wanting against the bigger and better teams.
Unlike Japan, most of South Korea’s mainstays ply their trade in the less-competitive Asian leagues, with few of the Europe-based players being the star turns in an otherwise not too well-known squad. Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min is expected to carry the Koreans forward; the young attacker has been likened to Arjen Robben, and would do ever so well to emulate him. Other vital cogs include Arsenal forward Park Chu-Young, captain Lee Chung-Young and Kim Bo-Kyoung of Cardiff City.
South Korea’s passage into the World Cup was far from smooth as they chopped and changed the managerial fall guys, as they finally rested their World Cup hopes on Hong’s shoulders. Hong’s start to life hasn’t been too impressive, but his tactical switches have made his Korean side a tad bit unpredictable. He will look to gazump opponents with a mixture of 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-1-1 depending on key playmaker and attacking threat Son’s position on the pitch. FSV Mainz’s quick forward Koo Ja-Cheol could be another of the secret weapons in their repertoire; his quick-off-the-blocks style of play could unsettle tired defences, and offers some much needed respite to Son.
South Korea’s lack of stardust means that they’ll always have that individual quality lacking against big teams in tight games. Uruguay took care of them in the round of 16 at South Africa 2010; a game where the minute details were taken care of by the better individual quality of the South Americans. South Korea are known for being disciplined and rigid, and aren’t the most adventurous of teams. Their stamina and all-running style holds them in good stead, but how well they could stand up to the heat of Brazil remains to be seen. South Korea have an easy group to deal with, and yet again has a good chance to be the continent’s flag-bearers deep into the Cup.
Underdogs Iran head into the FIFA World Cup with little to play for. Carlos Queiroz’s side are up against the might of Argentina in group F along with African champions Nigeria and newcomers Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although the draw looks favourable compared to the other Asian teams, Iran’s lack of international exposure as well as their long absence from the World Cup means that they’ll struggle to make it out of their group, or so thinks the majority.
Iran’s maverick style of play will catch many observers’ fancy. They are prone to errors, pretty bad too, but the fact that they play with heart and bravery endears the West Asians to the fans. Iran’s no-nonsense, physical style of play could pose more than a few problems for the flamboyant Argentines, and could even be a handful for newbies Bosnia-Herzegovina and similarly error-prone Nigeria.
Queiroz and co will pin their hopes on a few Europe-based stars, as well as captain and experienced playmaker Javad Nekounam. Ashkan Dejagah got relegated with Fulham last season, but he showed glimpses of his ability to make him a danger man. Reza Ghoochannejhad of Charlon Athletic will look to continue his fine international goalscoring form and his goals could be important in deciding close matches against Nigeria or Bosnia.
Iran’s defence has always been suspect, but the fact that they defend deep could work to their benefit. Iran aren’t expected to go far in the tournament, but positive results or even draws in their group games could point towards a brighter future in the country. Anything more than that would obviously be a bonus; the nation would even celebrate if they somehow manage to make the knockouts.