Commentary: With Japan and Saudi Arabia upsets at World Cup, Asian football is showing it can compete with the best
Most of Japan’s players play in Western Europe, with only seven J-League players in the team.
On the other hand, about half of South Korea’s players play in the K League, while all of Saudi Arabia’s players feature in their domestic league.
But dig deeper and you’ll find that one common factor behind these early successes at the World Cup is good coaching.
The Saudis were adventurous in their approach, defending with a high line and taking the game to the Argentinians. And there was also the matter of an inspirational half-time team talk by head coach Herve Renard.
“We have a crazy coach. He motivated us during half-time, telling us stuff that made us want to eat the grass,” said midfielder Abdulelah Almalki.
Then there was Moriyasu’s tactical awareness in introducing Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu at halftime to switch to a back three and then throwing substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano on.
Doan netted the equaliser, while Asano smashed home the winner.
And while South Korea failed to find the back of the net against Uruguay, they looked well-drilled by tactician Paulo Bento and played some tidy possession football as well.
It has also been suggested that the mentality of players in Asian teams provide them with an edge.
Speaking after the Samurai Blue’s historic victory, Roma coach Jose Mourinho pointed out a difference between European and Asian players.
“In European football there is a big focus on the individual, a big focus on egos,” he said.
“I never coached Japanese players but I coached Asian players … The team is the most important thing. People play for the team. They don’t play for themselves.”
DARING TO DREAM
Asian teams are no strangers to deep runs at past World Cups.
Japan, who made their first appearance at the tournament in 1998, reached the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup when they were joint-hosts.
They would go on to repeat this feat in Russia when they were beaten in heartbreaking fashion by Belgium at the same stage of the competition.
South Korea have gone one step further.
At the 2002 World Cup, they reached the semi-finals before being eliminated by Germany. The fourth-placed finish is the best an Asian team has recorded at the World Cup.