We look at the route that Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea have taken on their way to Brazil in 2014, with former Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz and current player Shinji Kagawa both booking their places via the Asia qualifying section.
The Confederations Cup has driven up the excitement for the World Cup in Brazil next year, the colours, the stadia and the roar of excitable Brazilian crowds has proven to be the competition’s greatest selling points and are currently being seen all over the world.
The tournament now seems to finally be looming on us for the first time since the South American hosts were announced in 2007 (the first hosts on the continent since Argentina in 1978) because the first countries are beginning to qualify. The first nations to book their plane tickets for Brazil were Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea, from the Asian federation.
The Blue Samurai have qualified for every World Cup since 1998 and are a dominant force on their continent, winning four of the last six editions of the AFC Asian Cup. The Japanese combination of an imaginative front line, as well as a strong defensive unit, has allowed them to power through their qualifying group, losing just one game in the process.
Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda scored 13 goals between them and the pair will have been hoping to lead the team more successfully through the Confederations Cup, yet Japan have already been eliminated after two defeats against Brazil and Italy. Aspirations will be much higher for next summer where they’ll want to get past the round of 16 for the first time in their history.
On Tuesday evening Joshua Kennedy scored a vital goal in a 1-0 win over Iraq to get the Socceroos to their third World Cup in a row, as they have finished second behind Japan in qualifying (the same situation they found themselves in when qualifying for South Africa at the last World Cup).
The national team hasn’t won a competition since they switched from the Oceania to Asian qualifying and many suggest that the squad’s most important players such as Luke Wilkshire, Lucas Neill, Matt McKay and Tim Cahill (all over thirty-years of age) will be treating the World Cup in 2014 as their last international tournament.
Ex-Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz has led Iran to their third appearance at the World Cup finals and assembled a team that topped their qualifying group - despite strong competition from South Korea and Uzbekistan - thanks to a 60th minute winner from Amir Hossein Sadeghi against South Korea in the final game.
In Asian continental competitions they are one of the most successful sides and have amassed three Asian Cups, three Asian Games, four West Asian Football Federation Championships and a West Asian games title.
Huge celebrations over the country thanks to the national team’s success was complimented by the news that a nation, governed for eight years by the conservative and hard-line leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will gain a new lease of life under the reformer Hassan Rowhani who has promised greater reform.
The Red Devils were the only nation from the four qualifiers who did not have control over their fate. After losing 1-0 to the Iranians at Ulsan on Tuesday they needed Uzbekistan to either not win against Qatar or at least not to win by six goals or more. South Korean fans must have felt confident of a favourable result until the dying moments when Ulugbek Bakaev made it 5-1 for the Uzbeks, but luckily the Qataris held out to enable the Reds to qualify for their eighth straight World Cup.
The national team currently lacks a manager after Choi Kang-Hee stepped down from the role and the prime candidate to take over is Hong Myung-Bo, who has been the Under-20 and Under-23 manager in the past. Myung-Bo will inherit a talented squad with whom he will be familiar, and he will hope to replicate the success South Korea enjoyed in 2002 when they finished fourth and he was Dick Advocaat’s assistant manager.
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