NEW DELHI: The Asian Tigers are roaring in the Qatar World Cup. After Saudi Arabia stunned three times champions Argentina on November 22, it was the turn of Japan to humble four- time winners Germany the next day.
It’s the first time in the history of the tournament that two world superpowers have had to taste defeat against their Asian rivals.
These are early days but there is no denying the resurgence of Asian teams in world football. Traditionally, the Asian teams have rarely impressed in the World Cup. They have barely made it beyond the second round—North Korea (1966) and Saudi Arabia (1994) being the only exceptions. It was in the 2002 World Cup (jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan) where South Korea had the best showing after they made it to the semi-finals. Japan also made the last 16 stage in this World Cup. It’s really baffling as to how Saudi Arabia and Japan have managed to script historic wins on consecutive days. Blitz India tried to decode the great showing of Asian teams thus far.
One of the main reasons for Japan’s stunning win over Germany is that eight members of the Blue Samurai are currently playing in the Bundesliga (German League). This is a very crucial factor, as the Japanese players and think-tank are familiar with Germany’s style of play and their tactics – a big advantage. “The fact that so many Japanese players are active in the German League is one of the major reasons behind their victory,” said KS Santosh, a former Kerala player.
It’s no coincidence that both the upsets happened in the early matches. While Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in 1pm local time, Japan overcame Germany at 3pm Qatari time. Despite the airconditioned stadiums, it’s quite clear that the European teams are not at their best during the day matches and seem to be getting fatigued towards the end. Lionel Messi epitomised this as he looked jaded towards the end of the match against Saudi Arabia. “The Asian teams seem to have an advantage at the early matches. The heat seems to be playing a factor against the Europeans,” said Santosh, who had a small stint in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
In both the upsets, there was a common factor. Both Saudi Arabia and Japan came overcame 1-0 defeats to overcome their fancied rivals. Not just that both the Asian teams scored their winning goals in the second half.
Coming to the match against Argentina, Lionel Messi put his team ahead when he converted a penalty in the 10th minute. Thereafter, twin strikes by Saleh Al Shehri (48th) and Salim Al Dawsari (53rd) sunk the South American giants. It was an action replay in Germany’s match as the Europeans scored the opener through Ilkay Gundogan (37th), before the Japanese went through with goals from Ritsu Doan (75) and Takuma Asano (83rd).
“In both the matches, it’s very clear that Saudi Arabia and Japan increased the tempo as the match wore on and managed to score both the winning goals towards the end. This clearly shows that Argentina and Germany lost steam towards the closing stages”, opined Antony Andrews, assistant coach of Gokulam FC.
The fact that the World Cup has coincided with all the major European Leagues is also a major factor that seems to be hurting the leading European teams. Players like Messi (Argentina) and Sergey Gnabry (Germany) are coming doing World Cup duty after fulfilling their obligations to their respective clubs Paris Saint German and Bayern Munich respectively.
“The fact that the leading players have had no rest coming into the FIFIA World Cup because of playing in the Champions League is a major factor why the likes of Messi and Gnabry seem to have nothing left in their tanks. They seem to be mere shadows of themselves and this is helping the Asian teams,” quipped Anthony.
The coming days will determine whether the roar of the Asian Tigers becomes more resonant.