Asia at the World Cup: Experts Review
Kuala Lumpur: The five Asian nations at the 2018 FIFA World Cup concluded their participation with a record points tally. Five experts review their respective teams performances in Russia.
Our five-man panel had shared their pre-tournament thoughts on their countries’ chances and how they saw things potentially playing out. Now they reflect on those performances and look ahead to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
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What are your thoughts about your nation’s Russia 2018 campaign?
Hassett: Ultimately it is a missed opportunity. Bert van Marwijk’s mission was to get Australia through to the knockout stages and they fell well short. Australia's largely defensive strategy was understandable, but the complete absence of any attacking nous was problematic in all three games. Daniel Arzani was clearly our brightest young player to emerge for many years.
Rahbar: It’s a very memorable World Cup for us, for Iranian football fans. You saw how people went to the airport to welcome our national team. We haven’t seen these sort of images before. I think most of the people who love football in Iran, liked the Iranian football team’s performance. I think it’s a good achievement for our national team.
Motokawa: It went very well. The new players were able show their great ability because of veterans such as [Makoto] Hasebe and [Keisuke] Honda. I think those veterans did their job in leading and that created a great balance within the team. Each game had different player scoring a goal; It was like having a “hero of the day” for each match.
Seo:I think the Korean team restored our pride with our biggest victory in the World Cup even though we didn’t qualify for the Round of 16. We beat Germany, the best team in the world, and eliminated them from the Group Stage for the first time in 80 years. However, we can’t say that, as a whole, the results were good. We should never paper over all the problems with that victory.
Nahass: Catastrophic mistakes in tactical and mental preparation for the opening match cost us dearly. But to be fair, credit to the players first and staff who were able to restore balance and absorb the shock of the first defeat. We got an important win against Egypt. Overall, this campaign can be filed under “Could have been better”.
Did they exceed, match or fall behind your expectations?
Hassett: Pre-tournament, I predicted that Australia would only get one point that’s exactly what they obtained. However, it’s clear that the team should have performed better in key moments. The defeat against Peru was utterly demoralising for the whole nation, but that's what happens when you don't score from open play.
Rahbar: Most people, myself included, did not expect good results, because we were playing against three big teams. In reality, it was much better than our predictions. As I predicted earlier, it depended on the first match. It changed everything and helped our national team do well against Spain and Portugal.
Motokawa: They did much better than I expected. The difference from previous coach [Vahid] Halilhodzic to his replacement Akira Nishino was that the latter respected individual players’ opinions more and made them think for themselves when they were on the pitch.
Seo:?The victory against Germany, of course, exceeded my expectation but two defeats against Sweden and Mexico were below my expectation. The players did well to turn a negative feeling after two defeats into a positive one in the final Group Stage match.
Nahass: I did not expect much, there was no pressure to reach the second round for example. The first match was naturally very disappointing, but the whole team did well to bounce back and the win against Egypt was particularly pleasing.
Who was the stand-out player?
Hassett:Probably Trent Sainsbury, after missing out four years ago due to an unfortunate accident, he was brilliant here. He didn’t have his best game against Peru but was otherwise tremendous in very trying conditions.
Rahbar: We had three or four players that played the best. Goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, centre-back Morteza Pouraliganji, midfielder Vahid Amiri and central defensive midfielder Omid Ebrahimi.
Motokawa:Gaku Shibasaki, Gen Shoji, and Takashi Inui played so well. Shibasaki proved that he can play at this level, Shoji showed he can completely shut down an opponent, while Inui scored twice and was important throughout.
Seo:Before the World Cup, we had no idea that Cho Hyun-woo could play at this level. He has shown his ability and value on the international stage through this World Cup, I think he will play in Europe in the future.
Nahass:?Abdullah Otayf presented himself very well. His accurate passing, agile movement and lovely ability to dictate play in the middle of the park made the difference for Saudi Arabia in midfield.
What should be the next step for the team?
Hassett:A new coach, Graham Arnold, has officially began preparations for the AFC Asian Cup, which is now just six months away. Australia will be out to defend the title but it looms as a real challenge. He'll also have to make big decisions on whether to keep or move on some veteran players like Tim Cahill, Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak.
Rahbar: Our next step is improvement. Now we are very good in defence and we are a team the big teams like Portugal and Spain struggle to score against. But when we talk about the attacking system, we are not good. And now we have some time before the Asian Cup to improve and add some attacking systems to our team.
Motokawa:There is a question of who the next head coach will be, but I am also worried about replacing the outgoing players. Hasebe, Honda and other senior players are retiring, and I am concerned that the replacements could represent a drop in quality unless they develop faster.
Seo: The identity of the new head coach will be important. We should pick a coach who is of the same level that stars Son Heung-min and Ki Sung-yueng deal with on a day-to-day basis at their clubs. Moreover, Ki, Koo Ja-cheol and some senior players are considering retirement after the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, so a shift in generations in some positions is needed.
Nahass: Continuing with coach Pizzi is crucial; he has time until the Asian Cup and can now further instil his style of play in the team. Finding a goal scorer will be a headache, but elsewhere there are plenty of options and I expect a very good campaign for Saudi Arabia if the administrators can set up a good preparation plan.
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