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The best results of Asia in World Cup history
Soccer is not an uber-popular sport in Asia, but it has become more popular as the years go by. Countries like Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia have shown immense love for the sport, and their national team systems have followed with promising players coming up.
South America and Europe are usually the regions that make the highlight plays in the World Cup. In this competition, Asia is not typically a top-performing region, but they have shown solid promise with some of its runs over the years. Here are the best results Asia has gotten in the history of the quadrennial soccer tournament.
South Korea at the 2002 World Cup (4th place)
As of mid-2022, this is still the best performance of any Asian team in the World Cup. South Korea handily won Group D in the group stage with two wins and one draw. They accrued seven points with wins over Poland and Portugal. The only blemish was against the United States, a 1-1 draw.
Guus Hiddink set the team for success
Known as a top-tier manager during his career, Guus Hiddink did a fantastic job in his one-year stint with the South Korean national team. It was a surprising hire from the team because Hiddink was a former Real Madrid manager, but they managed to sign him up for a World Cup run.
When he joined the team as manager, Hiddink imposed his philosophy on the South Korean squad. It got him in trouble with the fan base because, before the event, the team was not winning matches. That was not the case at the World Cup itself because they reached 4th place, which is still the highest placement out of any Asian team ever.
A fantastic performance for a host country
South Korea was under pressure to perform as the host country alongside Japan. They managed to break through that barrier and proved they deserved to be called a soccer nation. They beat out some of the best teams in the world, such as Italy and Spain.
Having the home-ground advantage was a massive boost since they performed at the highest level possible, where they defeated Italy 2-1 and beat Spain on penalties, 5-3.
They lost to eventual finalists Germany, and then in the third-place match, they narrowly lost to Turkey. Despite the defeats, this was a magnificent result for South Korea as they proved that Asian soccer could reach great heights, which felt even better in front of their home fans.
Players like Park Ji-sung, Ahn Jung-hwan, and Seol Ki-hyeon became national heroes, and their influence still rings true today.
North Korea at the 1966 World Cup (8th place)
North Korea has only reached the World Cup stage twice, in this stellar performance in 1966 and 2010. They were not supposed to make it to the World Cup, but North Korea was able to step in due to South Africa's disqualification and South Korea's logistic issues.
North Korea was placed in Group 4 alongside the Soviet Union, Italy, and Chile during the group stage. It was a tough group, but North Korea and the Soviet Union took a victory over Italy which essentially secured them a spot in the top two and the knockout stage.
Nearly made it to the semi-finals
North Korea was matched up with Portugal as they entered the knockout stage. The Asian country was up 3-0 after 25 minutes, but that was for nought because Portugal went on an immense comeback as they scored five goals and prevented North Korea from scoring more than three.
Despite the loss, it was still a fantastic performance from North Korea as they surpassed expectations and even beat a powerhouse Italy squad en route to the quarter-final finish. They could have advanced to the semi-final, where they would have faced eventual champions England.
Japan at the 2002 World Cup (9th place)
Since the 1998 World Cup, Japan has been a consistent team in the tournament. They find a way to shine at the event, but their performance in the 2002 World Cup is the standout run for this country.
The 2002 World Cup had two host countries, and Japan was the second one paired with South Korea. While the partner country made it further in the tournament, Japan also had an impressive run as they topped Group H, which had Belgium, Russia, and Tunisia.
Japan won two group victories with a 2-0 win over Tunisia and a 1-0 win over Russia. The game against Belgium was an exciting 2-2 draw that left Japan without a loss in the group stage.
Lost to an eventual top-three team
In Miyagi Stadium, Japan had to play Turkey in the round of 16. The Japanese team lost the match, but this team finished third overall at the World Cup, which is a lofty competition for Japan.
It was one of the most well-rounded squads at the World Cup with no clear-cut star, but they, alongside South Korea, proved that Asian soccer teams could compete with the best of the best.
Israel at the 1970 World Cup (12th place)
The country qualifies as a European team nowadays, but Israel was an Asian soccer team back in the day. They qualified for the 1970 World Cup for the first time, and during that time, they were an Asian team that had to go through the Asian Football Confederation.
Israel held group leaders Italy to a goalless draw while they kept up with Sweden in a 1-1 draw. They did not win a game, but they proved they belonged on the world stage. They also narrowly missed out on the knockout stage as Uruguay had one more point than them.
It was a talented team that had excellent players. The standout has to be team captain and star forward Mordechai Spiegler. His teammates Giora Spiegel and Itzhak Shum helped him perform at the highest level, and they were impressive at the World Cup even if they did not make it further than 12th place.
How will Asia fare at the 2022 World Cup?
Including Australia, the 2022 World Cup will have six Asian teams. As the host country, Qatar has automatically qualified for the tournament. Mainstays Japan and South Korea have qualified, but both Iran and Saudi Arabia are trying to find consistency with their second World Cup in a row.
Asian teams will be the plucky underdogs
Once again, Asian teams will be the underdogs at the World Cup. It has been common for a long while, but with some profound players on every Asian team, you can expect they will pull off some major upsets.
Both South Korea and Japan should have high expectations because they have produced some world-class players since 2018. The perennial stars have stayed prominent, with Son Heung-min leading the way as the best Asian player in the world.
Players like Son will be integral to how Asian soccer will look in the future. He has been influential because he has shown that he can thrive as a star player alongside the Europeans and South Americans. Son is just the start for Asian soccer because he has cemented himself as a homegrown South Korean star for a top-tier club. If he can help lead his country to the promised land, it will be a massive achievement that will bring immense success.
Japan has a good cast of star players, including Takumi Minamino, Takefusa Kubo, and Takehiro Tomiyasu. It is not as star-powered as South Korea, but Japan's cast of players is quite diverse, which provides them with the tools they need to compete.
The stage is set for Asian teams to shine internationally
Countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines have shown promise for improvement as soccer continues to become more popular. With South Korea and Japan leading the way, Asia has a bright future ahead in soccer. Get a glimpse into how Asian teams will fare on the international stage with Qatar's upcoming 2022 World Cup.
Words: Cholo Martin
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