Asian football can hold its head up proudly at the 2022 World Cup after its representatives have shown just how much of a global game football really is after Japan, South Korea, and Australia have all reached the round of 16.
It is a historic achievement for AFC, a “lesser” federation when compared to UEFA and CONMEBOL, but nevertheless, one that boasts some brilliantly gifted players that have stood in the face of some of the giants of European and South American football in a winter tournament that has drawn comparisons to the 2002 World cup co-hosted by Japan and South Korea when both nations advanced out of the group stage. But Qatar has proven one step better for the Asian Football Confederation, sending three nations into the next round for the first time in its history.
Though this time around it was Japan as the only nation to top its group in a shock that sent Germany crashing out of the tournament as Samurai Blue defeated both Hansi Flick’s men as well as Spain in group play, the Taegeuk Warriors and the Socceroos performed brilliantly in their own right to oust some big names as well, with Uruguay and Denmark suffering at their expense.
And credit must also be given to other participants as well, with Saudi Arabia and Iran also putting in credible performances in their own right despite failing to secure passage into the knockout stage, most impressively coming from aṣ-Ṣuqūr Al-ʿArabiyyah after their incredible 2-1 win over Argentina to open group play that will arguably go down as one of the greatest upset results in World Cup history.
Iran, too, earned a big result against a Wales outfit that boasts talent at the top level of English football and plenty of tournament know-how in their own right.
During a World Cup that could see seven of the sixteen nations at the beginning of the knockout stage hail from outside of the European and South American hegemonies, this winter is proving to be an unexpected surprise in Qatar.