Why Russia 2018 can be a tough nut to crack for Asian teams
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
The Asian representatives have drawn tough opponents, to say the least.
The FIFA World Cup is less than a month away, as the whole footballing world brims with anticipation for this great spectacle. Russia is poised to host the World Cup this year and favourites have already been established to win the tournament. While the likes of Brazil, Germany and France are being heavily tipped to win the trophy, the Asian sides have also been impressive nonetheless, in their route to qualifying for the grand stage.
There have been five teams who have qualified from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)- Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has never been easy for the Asian national teams during the world cup and these five teams will very likely go into the tournament as underdogs.
The Russian Ultras are infamous for their hooliganism
There are many factors which can play a part in this World Cup being especially gruelling for the Asian teams. The most volatile obstacle will definitely be the hostile environment of Russia, with the Russian football fans being known to be ruthless ultras. They are some of the most passionate yet brutal fans in European football and can make life a living hell for any team if they want to. While FIFA has promised to control the hostile environment the Russian fans have promised, they definitely can't control certain ones from trying to get under the skin of the Asian players.
The fact that racism is rampant among Russian football fans will be a hurdle for the Asians in the World Cup. One such instance took place during France's win over Russia in an international friendly recently in Saint Petersburg. French stars Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele were allegedly subjected to racial taunts from the crowd which has a fair chance of continuing in the World Cup as well.
Asians are in general are subjects to racism all over the world and considering the scenario, news of racial taunts and abuses during the World Cup would not be too surprising.It'll be extremely difficult for the teams to keep a cool head and not let it rattle them during the fixtures.
Saudi Arabia have been drawn in the same group with hosts Russia
Added to that, the AFC representatives have already received a reality check during the World Cup Draw last year when almost all of them were put in comparatively difficult groups. Saudi Arabia was placed in the same group as hosts Russia and will definitely have a tough time trying to oust them in the inaugural match of the tournament.
Apart from Russia, their group also contains Mohammed Salah's Egypt and South American powerhouses Uruguay. Iran might be one of the stronger Asian Teams headed into the tournament, but they were placed in the same group as Spain and European Champions Portugal. While Morocco might be an equal opposition, upsetting either of Spain or Portugal will be a herculean task for them.
Asian Champions Australia and South Korea might have been put in a relatively more competitive group, but the likes of France and Denmark for the Aussies and Germany and Mexico for the Koreans will pose a huge threat to their dreams. While Austrailia and South Korea have some impressive players who have played at the top of European Football, their opposition could prove to be overwhelming unless they put in maximum effort.
Japan might not have any "heavyweights" like their compatriots, but even the Group H has the likes of Poland, Colombia, and Senegal in it. While the Blue Samurais probably have a better chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds than most of the other Asian representatives, it will be a tough task nonetheless for them as well.
On paper, Japan have the best chances to make a mark in this World Cup
Something which has made the Asian teams' chances of progressing to the knockout stages of the World Cup in recent years is the lack of experience. The Asian teams lack experienced big-game players, which has plagued their chances of ousting European or South American heavyweights in the past.
This disadvantage will probably continue haunting the Asians this year with little chances of them becoming contenders. Asian Football has developed well since the last World Cup but there's still only a limited amount of players who have actually gone onto achieve success in the biggest stages. Only Australia and South Korea have some of their top players to have played in the European scene, whilst Saudi Arabia or Iran still lack the advantage.
But if not anything else, the Asians teams have displayed a lot of heart and determination in the past tournaments, which allowed them to cause many upsets. They will need to retain the passion if they are to make their countries proud and silence their doubters at Russia next month.
Published: Fri May 18, 2018 01:16 PM IST