Best Asia XI from 2014 World Cup: Australia and Iran Dominate After Poor Showing
It is fair to say that Asian football has enjoyed better times than the 2014 World Cup, with all four representatives bowing out at the first hurdle.
For South Korea and Japan in particular it was a major disappointment. Their abilities as individuals were clear, but they passed up major opportunities to secure victories that would have secured a second round berth.
Australia and Iran were more impressive, defying their respective pre-tournament status as whipping boys to put in some more than respectable displays.
Despite the general malaise, then, which players make our Asian best XI of the 2014 World Cup?
Asia is not particularly well-known for its goalkeeping prowess, but Japan have a gloveman of quite some ability in Standard Liege's Eiji Kawashima.
While he did not have the best of tournaments in terms of goals conceded, with his centre-backs offering little protection, his general play was good; claiming crosses with authority and making some good saves.
But for a poor final game against Bosnia, Iran's Alireza Haghighi would have been a shoo-in for the team. Kawashima, though, gets the nod on consistency.
In what was a poor World Cup for Japan, only full-backs Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida really stood out for the Samurai Blue, and it is the latter who slots in at right-back in our side.
Uchida may have failed to find the net when chances fell his way against Greece, but his relentless running up and down the flank throughout the three games was a crucial element of Japan's play.
Per Whoscored, the Schalke right-back created four goalscoring chances for teammates at the competition and led the way for Japan in terms of both tackles and interceptions.
His name has been linked with some of Europe's biggest sides, and he did his reputation no harm at all over the past three weeks.
Coming into the tournament, all the talk surrounded Carlos Queiroz's stubborn defensive line led by the titanic Jala Hosseini.
But it was his central defensive partner, Amir Sadeghi, who stole the show, dominating aerially and shutting off all the space in which playmakers might play.
His passing out from the back, although limited in attempts, was also far calmer than his colleague's.
Western Sydney Wanderers defender Matthew Spiranovic deserves real credit for the way he marshalled a relatively new-look Australian defensive line over the three games in Brazil.
In what was a relatively poor tournament for Asia's defenders, Spiranovic stood out. He was strong in the air, read play well and largely managed to contain his illustrious opponents—even as Spain turned on the style in Matchday 3.
Australia exceeded many people's expectations over the past few weeks, with a number of lesser-known players standing up well to the challenges they faced. Spiranovic will be one of those to attract most attention.
Second only to midfielder Andranik Teymourian in terms of defensive contributions, Persepolis left-back Mehrdad Pooladi was perhaps Iran's outstanding player of the World Cup.
Despite facing significant opposition in Nigeria and Argentina in the opening two games of the competition, Pooladi stood up to nearly all challenges thrown at him—dealing well with the threat of Emmanuel Emenike and the overlapping Pablo Zabaleta.
While Iran's generally defensive approach meant Pooladi was not seen much as an attacking threat, he did enough in solely defensive work to make our side. Strong in the air and impressively quick to read play, he is one of the competition's true surprise success stories.
Australia captain Mile Jedinak will be a proud man following the World Cup, having seen his side exceed all expectations and his own personal performances greatly impress.
Jedinak came into the competition off the back of a fine season in the Premier League with Crystal Palace and showed every bit of the composure that saw him excel there in an Australia jersey.
He will never be a player who hogs the headlines or who produces incredible statistics, but Jedinak plays a mature role in midfield ensuring that his side are both defensively stable and able to counter quickly.
Against Netherlands, he was even able to make a rare appearance on the scoresheet from the penalty spot.
Former Bolton midfielder Andranik Teymourian used every ounce of his considerable experience to put in three more than respectable displays alongside fellow veteran Javad Nekounam in the Iran midfield.
Andranik's incessant work-rate was vital to his side maintaining defensive solidity against Nigeria and Argentina, in which they conceded just one solitary goal to a moment of Lionel Messi excellence. Sadly, their resistance couldn't hold out any longer when they took on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Iran spent long periods of games without the ball, yet managed to win over many of the doubters who had predicted them to be whipping boys ahead of the summer. Andranik's contribution in midfield was key to their ability to keep their heads above water.
A tremendously underrated midfielder, Ki Sung-Yueng was at the heart of everything South Korea did right at the tournament. Sadly, his teammates rarely matched his performance levels.
Over the course of three games, despite the pressure his side consistently managed to put themselves under, Ki misplaced just 12 of 185 attempted passes, creating five goalscoring opportunities in the process, per WhoScored.
While his long-range shooting may not always be good enough to justify the regularity with which he lets fly, he forced both Belgium's Thibaut Courtois and Algeria's Rais M'Bolhi into fine saves to prevent him getting onto the scoresheet.
In spite of South Korea's failure, he can hold his head high.
One of just a few Koreans to standout, Bayer Leverkusen winger Son Heung-Min lived up to his pre-tournament billing as one of the continent's men to watch at the World Cup.
While Hong Myung-Bo's side failed to shine as either an attacking or defensive unit, Son at least gave them one outlet with genuine quality. His dribbling was consistently troublesome for opponents and he managed to get himself on the scoresheet, albeit in defeat to Algeria.
Despite the result, Son terrified Algeria with his direct running in that clash and is well deserving of a place in this selection, having finally unleashed his potential with the national side.
Winger Mathew Leckie scored 10 goals in Germany's second tier last season and it is easy to see why, based on a World Cup in which he showed constant menace with the ball at his feet.
Lightning fast over the ground and an excellent dribbler, he was the one Australian who looked to run at opponents, and got his reward with a series of free-kicks in dangerous areas. However, he occasionally went to ground too easily.
FC Ingolstadt look to have secured a bargain by capturing him from FSV Frankfurt ahead of the World Cup, with suitors now lining up to enquire about the man who gave Chile and Netherlands so many concerns on the counterattack.
He may have been too hasty in putting pen to paper.
Australia's veteran midfielder Tim Cahill, now fully converted into a striker with the national side, certainly enjoyed his final fling on a global stage.
Despite Australia's nightmare group stage draw, the Socceroos put in a mightily impressive showing in Brazil, handing both Chile and Netherlands a major fright in their opening two fixtures.
Much of their success was due to Cahill's constant ability to provide an attacking outlet and also his threat from any ball into the area.
He was suspended for the final clash with Spain and was sorely missed, showing the challenge ahead for Australia in replacing his long-term contribution. Cahill also provided a true World Cup highlight with his special volley against the Dutch.