BENJAMIN BARRETT WRITES – The FIFA 2022 World Cup hosted by Qatar begins in late November and history is already being made. This year, Asia is boasting a record six teams that have qualified for the tournament: Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, South Korea, and Qatar. Only second to Europe, with 13 countries being represented, this is the most teams Asia has ever had in the World Cup.
The success of these countries attests to the rise of the sport in Asia. In the past, the continent as a whole has not been very successful in the World Cup; no Asian team has ever won the tournament. As a matter of fact, the farthest any Asian team has gone in the World Cup was in 2002 when South Korea made it to the semi-finals. In the absence of an Asian nation’s World Cup victory, a country from either Europe or South America has won it every year.
In recent years it is evident that Asian countries are making serious and expensive efforts to raise their level of play dramatically. Many clubs across different Asian countries are signing some of the world’s best players. Footballers such as Iniesta, Carlos Tevez, Hulk, James Rodrigues, and even Xavi, the current head coach of Barcelona, were all signed to Asian clubs on big contracts. The United States has made similar efforts to improve the quality of the sport in America. U.S. clubs have been signing players from all over Europe including Gareth Bale, Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzalo Higuían. It is fair to say that the United States has also seen a rise in soccer given that there are American players in all the top leagues, including Bundesliga, The Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga.
The question now is will this soccer up-kick in Asia yield better World Cup results. While there are six nations from the Asia region competing, the likelihood of one of those national teams winning the tournament is low. According to power rankings done by The Guardian, the highest ranked Asian nations are Iran, sitting at 23, and Japan, sitting at 25 out of 32 teams. The remaining four Asian teams languish in the bottom five of the power rankings.
While it is possible that one of these teams could surprise the world and take home the tournament win, it is highly unlikely. However, that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of qualifying for the World Cup. Improvements in any field take time, and having six teams qualify for the world’s most famous tournament is certainly nothing to overlook. The rise of soccer in Asia could be the start of a new era where soccer is not solely dominated by European and South American teams.