Ever since the 2002 World Cup that was hosted by Japan and South Korea, football in Asia has grown to another level. From the different leagues, academies and players Asia has, no one can deny the potential of the continent.
Recently, many Asian nations have stepped up in improving their quality level. Unfortunately, the majority of these nations will not be represented in the World Cup this year due to the amount of seeds and chances Asia has. However, one thing is for certain – the future is bright and if it continues like this, the representation of Asia will become huge on the biggest stage.
Here are the top 5 most improved Asian nations of football of this year.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s football team has made it to great heights this year by qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. With a strong majority of the squad consisting of players from its own domestic league, the Iran Pro League, it shows the natural quality Iran can produce on its home soil. Currently, the Iranian national football team is coached by former Portugal and Real Madrid manager, Carlos Queiroz. With his experience and abilities, he guided Iran to top spot in their World Cup qualifier group. By their performances in their road to Brazil, Iran has been labelled as one of the strongest defenses in Asia. As Iran prepares for their first World Cup campaign since 2006, there is no doubt that this nation has the potential to become one of Asia’s best.
Despite losing all three matches in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, the quality of Japanese football is unquestionable. The Blue Samurai has produced many legends from the likes of Shensuke Nakamura to Kazuyoshi Miura and clearly demonstrated that Japan has the might to compete in all international, domestic, and continental competitions. The current Asian champions have shown much improvement over the past decade by becoming the first nation to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Under Italian manager, Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan has raised their position to the extent of becoming representatives of Asian football to the world. As the World Cup approaches, key players like Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Mike Havenaar, Yuto Nagatomo and Eiji Kawashimi will be looking to show what the Asian champions are capable of doing. If all the players are fully fit, there should not be a surprise to anyone if Japan go far in this World Cup.
The Jordan national football team were the underdogs this past year with a qualifying campaign that unfortunately ended in a play-off defeat to Uruguay. A nation that never experienced international glory in its history, they had that chance by coming third place in the Asian qualifiers of Group B, on which they were given the daunting task of facing Uzbekistan in an Asian play-off. The winner would determine which team would play against the 5th position team in South American qualifiers, which was Uruguay. The play-off ended in a draw and then went to penalties on which the Jordanians won.
As Jordan was set to face Uruguay, many expected the South American side to win with ease due to their extensive squad of experienced and talented players. The first match of the play-off took place in Amman, Jordan in which Uruguay won 5-0. The tie was eventually written off to the South American champions as they were the favorites to go through, however, in the second leg in Uruguay, the Jordanians stole the show. With a large amount of heart and spirit given by the team, the match tied 0-0 and despite the fact that they did not qualify for the World Cup, they held their heads up high for getting to a position on which many have said was impossible.
Ever since their successful 2007 Asian Cup campaign, Iraqi football has been on the rise. The war-torn country has been filled with many political and regional issues however, that did not stop the advancement of football in the nation. Under the recent appointment of new Iraqi manager, Hakeem Shakir, many changes were made to the system of the national team. From his involvement in the youth systems to the national team, Iraqi football has raised its game. The Lions of Mesopotamia recently became successful in their 2013 under-22 Asian Cup campaign in Oman, where they won 1-0 against Saudi Arabia in the final. This shows that Iraq’s youth and upcoming generations are heading towards the right direction. Despite Iraq not qualifying for the World Cup this year, one thing can be said for sure, Iraqi football is getting bigger and better by the year. It is just a matter of time of showing it to the world.
Surprised? The Afghan national football team made huge steps in order to come to the position that they are in and the Afghan Football Association even won the FIFA Fair Play Award this year. Like Iraq, Afghanistan has been in war for decades and the environment of the country has made it difficult for the nation to grow in all levels of life whether it be politically, socially or economically. However, football has been one of the few things that has been rapidly growing for the past years. Due to the love of the game that the people in Afghanistan have, the team achieved their first international title by becoming South Asian Champions in 2011. The potential that Afghanistan carries for the footballing world is due to their desire and will to move forward. It is just about a matter of time when they exceed that and display their abilities on a bigger stage.