Now that the Confederations Cup is safely tucked away in Brazil, we can once again turn our attention to the real contest. The qualifying rounds for the 2010 FIFA World Cup are still being played out, but here is a brief run-down on who are shaping up as the likely field and what we can probably expect to see.
This is part two of a four part series. On this page, the main contenders from the Asian Confederation are discussed. To see predictions for the other confederations, please use the links in the following table of contents.
|Part One - Africa
Part Two - Asia and Oceania (this page)
Part Three - Europe
Part Four - The Americas
a. Australia (qualified)
The Australians thrived under the guidance of Guus Hiddink to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, breaking a 32 year drought. Once they made it in, they stunned the critics with their gritty determination that helped them to stage some dramatic upsets.
Trailing to Japan by one goal after 84 minutes in their opening match, Tim Cahill came onto the field as a substitute and almost immediately scored Australia's first ever World Cup goal, levelling the score. Amazingly in the 89th minute he struck again, with a pinball style effort that had the Japanese goal keeper (Kawaguchi) completely stumped.
Three minutes later John Aloisi slotted in the third goal for Australia, helping his team to stage one of the most thrilling comebacks ever witnessed in a World Cup match, the only time in history that any team has scored three goals from the 84th minute.
They then managed to shut Brazil out for 49 minutes, but eventually were worn down and lost the match by two goals. This effort was followed by a 2-2 draw with Croatia, enabling Australia to make it through to the R16 on points.
Australia's exit from the World Cup was marred by controversy, with a questionable penalty awarded to Italy (who subsequently went on to win the Cup) with only six seconds remaining on the clock. Video evidence appears to show that Fabio Grosso took a dive, and while the Australians were unlikely to make it through to the Quarter Finals, they did not deserve to go out in this unpalatable fashion.
b. Japan (qualified)
Former Brazilian superstar Zico took over command of the Japanese team from Philippe Troussier, helping them to qualify for a third successive World Cup bid in 2006. Despite having such a talented coach, their best result was a 0-0 draw with Croatia, and they failed to make it into the R16.
Now they have qualified again (second in Group 1, behind Australia), this time under the guidance of Japanese coach Takeshi Okada, who was appointed when Ivan Osim had to retire due to health reasons.
Japan are still a force within the Asian Confederation, but they are expected to struggle in this class. It is worth remembering that they progressed into the second stage in 2002 after some excellent performances against Belgium (2-2), Russia (1-0), and Tunisia (2-0).
But that eight years is a big gap, their showing in 2006 was not great, and they only finished second in their qualifying round. Definitely an outsider at the moment.
c. South Korea (qualified)
South Korea have qualified for their eighth attempt at the World Cup after finishing at the top of Group 2, the only team in that group to remain undefeated after eight matches in Round 4.
The best standing they have achieved in previous World Cups was fourth in 2002, as the host nation. In 2006 they defeated Togo 2-1, then achieved a 1-1 draw with France (who were the eventual tournament runners-up). Despite this good start, a subsequent loss to Switzerland put them behind France by a margin of only one point. France went on to the next round, while South Korea were sent home.
With luck in the draw, South Korea have the potential to get through to the second round, but their current game standard is roughly equivalent to that of Japan, and consequently also considered an outsider in this competition.
d. North Korea (qualified)
This is the first time North Korea has qualified for a World Cup since their effort to reach the Quarter Finals in 1966. Of course that achievement has absolutely nothing to do with the current team.
North Korea finished in second place of the Group 2 table, with a record of 3-3-2 from eight matches, and a goal ratio of 5:12 (which is not very good). What the North Koreans may lack in football skill, they more than make up for with patriotism and aggression.
They are highly unlikely to get through to the next stage.
e. Saudi Arabia (to qualify)
Saudi Arabia finished third in Group 2 and should be able to defeat Bahrain in their playoff decider. After getting through that match, they will not find a strong opponent in New Zealand and are expected to secure their berth in their fifth World Cup attempt.
From their previous attempts, Saudi Arabia have only made it past the first stage once, in 1994, when they recorded narrow victories over Morocco and Belgium. These were their only World Cup match wins, and their best other efforts were 2-2 draws with South Africa (1998) and Tunisia (2006).
Although they do not usually do well in World Cup competition, they always provide an entertaining match, and whenever they fail to qualify they will be sorely missed.
a. New Zealand (to qualify)
This is an easy one. As expected, New Zealand finished at the top of the OFC table, but will now have to face either Saudi Arabia or Bahrain in a playoff to decide who will go through to the World Cup. New Zealand are not expected to prevail, but if they do, then they are not expected to do any better at the World Cup than they did in the Confederations Cup. In other words, they have no chance.
[End of part two. Please click here to continue.]