Football is one of the most beloved sports in Asia, it has billions of passionate fans coming from an estimated amount of more than 4 billion people, which is equivalent to 59.76% of the world’s population.
Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind when speaking about Asian football is its shortcomings and lack of achievements. The highest-ranked Asian team in the FIFA men’s ranking is Iran at 22nd and only one Asian team has ever reached the top 4 in the history of the FIFA World Cup, which is South Korea who reached the FIFA World Cup 2022 Semi-final after beating Italy 2 goals to 1.
Football is second to none in terms of popularity in Asia, and there are occasions where Asian countries were able to shock heavy favourites on the world stage (South Korea beating Germany 2-1 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup). However, the question remains for the majority of Asian football fans: Why is Asia bad at football?
The following is a deep dive into the key factors that contribute to why Asia is a step behind in football.
#1 Level of competition
It is no secret that the level of competition in Asian football is nowhere near that of Europe or South America. While there are no official comparisons released by FIFA, it would not be hard for football fans to spot the quality gap between AFC Asian Cup, Euros, and Copa America.
Academic research conducted in 2019 showed how the level of the domestic league relates to the strength of the national team. Looking at how the last 3 World Cups were won by Spain, Germany, and France, it may be hard to deny how important the domestic league is to the success of a national team.
Dissecting the elements of a good domestic league might require an article on its own, but the quality gap can be easily spotted by looking at the list of the Club World Cup winners. No Asian Club has ever won the competition since it was first held in 2000.
You can find out whether the Club World Cup can be considered a major trophy here.
It may be simple to say that Asian countries should just improve the quality of their domestic league. However, it requires more than just a football revolution including a change in culture and infrastructure, which will be elaborated more below.
#2 Different cultures and values
Football is played by billions of people around the world, it is a fun sport that can be played by almost everyone. However, only an incredibly small fraction of people will make it as professional football players, let alone the elite players seen on European stages!
Professional football players dedicate the early years of their life to training, prioritising football training over other aspects including education.
Over the years, there is evidence showing that Asians have promising talents regardless of height and nationality. Some of the best active Asian footballers include Heung Min-Son of Korea and Takumi Minamino of Japan.
Conclusively, the talent pool may not be a problem for Asian countries, but there is one factor that is apparent in some of Asia’s largest countries, their cultures and values.
Take China and India as an example, 2 of the most populated countries in the world with just one appearance in the World Cup made by China in 2002. Disregarding socio-economics, there is one similar trait shared by China, India, and many other countries in Asia, which is prioritising education over “extracurricular” activities such as football.
These Asian countries lack sporting culture, particularly in football. There is a saying in India that goes “if you study hard you will live like a king but if you play sports you will ruin your life”, something that may be common not just in India but also in other Asian countries.
To be fair the culture and values are a result of other factors including poverty and other socio-economic metrics, but it may not be a valid excuse considering how African and South American countries are doing much better than Asia in football.
#3 Lack of infrastructure
To improve in football requires much more than just kicking the ball. As mentioned above, it requires support from the domestic league which is not a simple matter. Football is an industry, it runs on commerce and requires support from investors and viewers.
An improvement in the footballing industry is not only about the football game, it involves bringing more revenues to the game which can support the building of infrastructures across the nation.
|1||Premier League (England)||1.7 billion|
|2||La Liga (Spain)||903 million|
|3||Serie-A (Italy))||380 million|
|4||Bundesliga (Germany)||298 million|
|5||Ligue 1 (France)||120 million|
|6||Primeira Liga (Portugal)||98 million|
|7||Eredivisie (Netherlands)||90 million|
|8||Major League Soccer (USA)||72 million|
|9||Brasileirão (Brazil)||55 million|
|10||Primera Division (Argentina)||43 million|
Statistics showed that the top 10 League with the most TV viewership consists of 7 European Leagues and 3 American Leagues.
For Asian countries to compete with European and South American countries in the footballing industry, a change has to be made in the consumption habits of Asian Sports fans, particularly football.
#4 Poverty and malnutrition
While there are African and South American countries that proved otherwise, it is undeniable that poverty and malnutrition are factors in the quality and development of football players.
A report made by One Goal under the title “Fueling Asia’s footballers for the future” indicates that there are almost 200 million Asian children who are malnourished, which is the highest in terms of percentage compared to any other region.
It is only normal for a child born in such a poor situation to have less chance of progressing through a sport like football compared to a child born in a much more supportive environment like Europe.
#5 Lack of physicality
In general, Asians lack physicality when compared with Europeans. This means that European players are superior to Asians in terms of:
- Physical presence in the box
An example would be Japan’s 2-3 loss against Belgium in the FIFA World Cup 2018, where a last-minute corner turned into a disastrous counter.
The Japanese players knew that they could not compete with the Belgians in extra time, so they brought almost all of their players upfield.
This ultimately resulted in a quick counter by Belgium which sealed Japan’s fate.
Asian countries do have a lot to catch up in terms of infrastructure and football development, but the statistics show that Asian men have an average height of 167.5 cm, significantly shorter than Europe with 180 cm and South America with 171 cm. Whether or not it is the main reason, it does play a factor in a game of football.
Asians love football as much as the rest of the world does, it is played all over the continents and billions of fans watch the beautiful game week-in and week-out. However, there are some problems that Asian countries have to solve if they want to catch up with the rest of the world.
A revolution is needed in the Asian footballing industry. It requires young talents to challenge social norms, fans to support the industry, and even the government to address socio-economic factors such as poverty and malnutrition.
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