|Asia is predicted far
less to by the experts than to Africa. Why this?
Doesn't one say 'there
are now minnow anymore?'
Shot... thinks there has been an 'industrial revolution' in
football and the saying should be:
'there are minnows again'
and that this revolution has divided Asia into two camps of teams with
and without chances to make an impact.
Go East? What aliens
from outerspace might think about East or West you can read in the essay
World Cup 2002 - Who Owns The World? that examines
the role that the structural relationship of Asia, Africa, and Europe plays
in the reception of the game in the world.
Asia, yet a Cinderella
short before the discovery? While Africans are praised for their talent,
Asia carries the myth of the diligent learners and workers. While Japan
and Korea might be on the mind when making those associations, a team like
Saudi Arabia might stand for the opposite pole, the image of an elegant
and stylish but in many aspects unmodern game.
Before the World Cup 1994
there had been one and only one Asian team to win a match at a World Cup
final tournament and only this one team had been a serious threat. It was
North Korea who eliminated Italy 1:0 in the final first round match 1966
and came close surprising Eusebios's Portugal in the quarter finals, one
of the exciting matches in history, in the end losing 3:5. From 1978 on
there had been a big difference in the success of Asian and African teams
at the final tournaments although in the beginning both were labelled as
the same weak.
African teams had a
much better points per game average than the Asians. Because of the seeding
(Africans and Asians were considered as minnows and were only allowed to
play against stronger teams from Europe and America but not to play against
each other) their first intercontinental encounter was 1994 at USA with
Morocco and Saudi Arabia drawn into one group. Here Saudi Arabia got the
first Asian win since 1966 and added a second one against Belgium. This
made it the first World Cup since 1966 in which Asians were more successful
than Africans (by average winning perecentage).
A sign of change?
Did the experts wrong who promised Africa everything and did not care about
Many experts speak
of the 'small' football nations have closed the gap. It is true that knowledge
about the basics of the game has improved everywhere in the world, not
at last because television has conquered the space of visual experiences
and is delivering almost daily samples to learn from. Especially African
players have played in Europe and been able to pass on their knowledge.
(Because of the shortage of European based professionals, Asia had to go
But football in the
'old' football world has further improved. It has climbed to its next level:
not informations on the basics but on the details of the game. 'Building
new methods, new tactics, the new concept of a team consistsing of 22 instead
of 11 players, a higher number of special coaches, etc, it all has made
the football especially in Europe stronger. Also Europeans do not tend
to be complacant anymore towards the 'small' football nations.
Medical reasearch and developments
have made the physical and psychological factor explode in European football,
football has just had its 'industrial revolution' or 'scientific revolution'.
This revolution is
also a revolution of money input and so directly related to the explosion
of turnover in European football in the 1990's. When once all financial
input went into the salaries of one or two coaches and a group of players
an entire factory is now build around the teams including youth factories
in which players become nursed, educated and preconfigured. Many non European
teams have no chance competing on this level as they just do not have the
But some still profit
from the 'athlete building' process as players from around the world play
in the European leagues. So for example most of the African and even most
of the World Cup co-favorite Argentina's players are under contract with
Not the Asian teams.
Stagnation has been the consequence with exaclty three exceptions: Japan,
Korea, China who have chosen the 'western' economies as ideal have improved
their game with high expenditures, in the case of China and Korea still
only with relative succes as those lack the interchange with European experiences.
But it is obvious
how the balance inside Asian football has shifted towards those three:
Japan easily won the Asian Nations Cup 2000 and China with similar ease
qualified for this World Cup 2002.
The so much talented
Saudi Arabians are the only Arabian team to qualify from Asia and dispite
their elegance and success (Nations Cup runners up and direct qualification
from the group) stagnation in the game cannot be denied.
The Asian qualifiers
were characterised by much slower and less dense games, often interrupted
by injury time outs, especially when compared to the thrilling encounters
in the African qualification involving Morocco, Egypt, and Senegal.
It is conspicious
that the only team to change their style somehow, minnows Bahrein, had
a respectable impact during the course of the qualification.
So while 1994 Saudi
Arabia still played a good role in 2002, although arriving with a similar
strong and stylish football, they are hardly considered a factor for the
The unfamiliar conditions
in Korea Japan might help them to hide the gap, but it might more helpful
when the tournament casts a light on the miserable aspect of development
of football of the past decade: a class system between national leagues
which constantly widenes as there is a talent AND money flow towards the
big leagues leaving the rest of the world only with TV images or a very
few national games in which only those are competitive who have a good
number players at England, Italy, Spain, & Co.