Five countries will represent Asia in the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. The countries are Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Australia. This would be the first time that the Asian contingent will have five participating teams. Most of the aforementioned teams had a wonderful qualifying campaign and are now raring to go and make a mark at the world stage. These five teams have different challenges, expectations and hopes. Let us delve deeper into the teams and find out how will the Asian contingent perform in Russia .
This will be Japan’s sixth FIFA World Cup finals in a row. Despite being the third highest ranked team amongst the Asian contingent, they head the best Asian Team Market. They have made it to the knock out stages twice in 2002 and 2010. They have a bunch of players who ply their trade in top European leagues. Experienced players like Shinji Kagawa(Borussia Dortmund,Germany),Shinji Okazaki(Leicester City,England) and Makato Hasebe(Eintracht Frankfurt,Germany), will surely add a lot of steel in the squad and enhance their performance. Moreover they have been handed a fairly decent Group H where they are seeded with teams like Poland, Colombia and Senegal. If they can tackle Colombia and Senegal, then have a fair chance to make it to the next stage.
South Korea is Asia’s most successful nation and have qualified nine times for the FIFA World Cup finals. They are the only Asian country to make it to the last four in 2002. But they had a torrid time during the qualification stages and just made it for Russia. Head Coach Uli Stielike was sacked in June and Korean Football Association appointed Shin Tae-Yong as their new Head Coach. After Tae-Yong’s appointment Korea’s performance drastically improved defeating the likes of Colombia and Japan in international friendlies. They have established players in Son Heung Min(Tottenham Hotspur,England)and Koo Ja-Cheol(Augsburg FC,Germany). They are in a very tough group(Group F) with teams like Germany,Sweden and Mexico. A miracle can only make South Korea reach the next stage.
This would be Australia’s fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup finals. Their qualifying journey was also the least exciting and smooth. They had to qualify via two play-offs which they won narrowly against Syria and Honduras respectively. They too have experienced players in Mathew Ryan(Brighton,England),Aaron Mooy(Huddersfield,England),veteran Tim Cahill(Millwall,England) and Tom Rogic(Celtic,Scotland). Seeded with teams like France, Peru and Denmark in Group C, they have an outside chance of qualifying to the knock out stages if they can see off Peru and Denmark.
Saudi Arabia are the lowest ranked team in this edition of World Cup. They are placed 67th in the world two places below hosts Russia.Saudi Arabia won their last game (vs Japan) to finish second behind Japan from Group B of the Asian qualifiers. The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has changed four coaches in the last two years. Their newly appointed Argentine coach Juan Antonio Pizzia will have a very tough time to settle down with his team. They are the luckiest with the draw in Russia, as they are in Group A with Russia,Egypt and Uruguay. A lot will depend on senior players like Naseer Al-Shamrani(Al-Shabab),Mohammda Al-Shalhoub(Al-Hilal) and veteran goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah(Al-Nassar) to carry them to the knock outs.
Iran are the highest ranked team among the Asian contingent to have qualified for Russia. They are at number 36 in the world chart.They have now qualified for four out of the last five FIFA World Cup finals. They are the best inform team out of this bunch. Iran was unbeaten in the final stages of qualifying. They have a solid defence and are fantastic going forward. Carlos Queiroz’s team were defensively so good that during qualifiers they only conceded two goals out of ten games played. They boast of exciting talents in Sardar Azmoun(Rubin Kazan,Russia),Reza Ghoochannejhad(Heerenveen,Netherlands),Alireza Jahanbaksh(AZ Alkmaar,Netherlands) and Massod Shaojaei(AEK Athens,Greece) who all are in stupendous form. But to their bad luck they had a nightmare draw in Russia, where they have been seeded in Group B with Spain,Portugal and Morocco. A huge effort and a lot of luck factor will only see Iran progress to the knock out stages.