Drama-filled Asian Cup fuels 2026 World Cup hopes

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DOHA: An Asian Cup that will probably be remembered for shocks and dramatic finishes has showcased the area’s power in depth and raised hopes its groups might attain new heights on the 2026 World Cup.

Eight direct spots and one intercontinental playoff berth are up for grabs for Asian Soccer Confederation sides on the expanded 48-team World Cup within the US, Canada and Mexico.

The Asian Cup in Qatar, which concluded with Saturday’s last gained by the hosts 3-1 win over Jordan, means that the area’s conventional heavyweights now have some severe competitors.

“Asian soccer has improved lots,” South Korea coach Jurgen Klinsmann stated in Doha.

“The standard has risen during the last 10, 15 years dramatically.”

His strongly fancied aspect had been subsequently crushed 2-0 by Jordan within the semifinals whereas pre-tournament favorites Japan crashed out within the quarterfinals to Iran, who then misplaced to Qatar.

“All the groups on the Asian Cup have loads of high quality and we now have had tough video games as a result of they’re getting higher,” stated Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu, whose staff conceded a minimum of one purpose in each recreation.

Groups have principally discovered success by taking part in constructive, attacking soccer, whereas video games have typically been shut.

The largest margin of victory on the event was matching 4-0 wins for Australia and Jordan over Indonesia and Malaysia respectively.

Notable successes have been Jordan, whose high-tempo attacking fashion made a mockery of their world rating of 87, and debutants Tajikistan, who reached the quarterfinals.

Hong Kong, the lowest-ranked staff, had been aggressive regardless of shedding all three video games, giving Iran an actual scare earlier than taking place 1-0.

One other so-called regional minnow, Malaysia, pulled off a well-known 3-3 draw with South Korea.

South Korea skipper Son Heung-min thought he had scored the winner from the spot within the 94th minute, just for Malaysia to seize the leveller within the a hundred and fifth minute.

“They fought till the top,” stated Son. “I used to be more than happy to see this for Asian soccer.”

For all of the progress, a number of groups look like treading water or going backwards. India and China each headed residence with out scoring a purpose of their three video games every.

Among the goalkeeping has additionally been iffy at occasions and Japan, notably, badly lacked a dependable stopper.

Soccer author Scott McIntyre, of The Asian Recreation web site, believes the World Cup growth offers Asia’s smaller nations a purpose to take a position extra within the sport.

“When you’re one of many handful of Asian nations which have persistently gone to the World Cup, these nations have invested of their home leagues,” he instructed AFP.

“For others, it’s like, ‘What’s the motivation for those who’re an Uzbekistan or a Jordan?’

“You suppose with 4 spots, you’re by no means going to get to the World Cup.”

Asian groups had some notable success within the group part of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Japan beat Germany and Spain, and Saudi Arabia shocked eventual champions Argentina.

Saudi Arabia are throwing cash at soccer and are set to host the 2034 World Cup.

Nonetheless, South Korea’s run to the semifinals in 2002 as co-hosts stays the area’s greatest World Cup efficiency, and no AFC staff has gone additional than the final 16 since.

Groups from different confederations past Europe and South America have accomplished higher, with Morocco giving Africa its first World Cup semifinalist in 2022.

Hussein Ammouta, the Moroccan coach of Jordan, believes the important thing to enhancing nationwide sides is to have their gamers within the main European leagues.

Of his Jordan squad, solely Mousa Al-Tamari at Montpellier presently does that, however Ammouta sees a rising variety of Asian gamers adequate to comply with go well with.

“Asian soccer has developed a lot and is producing these high quality gamers which are being sought by massive European groups,” he stated on the eve of the ultimate.