- Associated Press - Thursday, June 26, 2014

SAO PAULO (AP) - With South Korea’s 1-0 loss to Belgium Thursday, the last Asian team bowed out of the World Cup - leaving the continent without any representatives in the knockout stages.

The result caps a dismal campaign for South Korea, Japan, Australia and Iran, the continent’s four representatives in Brazil.

The stats columns certainly didn’t provide encouraging reading: Games Played - 12; Wins - 0; Draws - 3; Losses - 9.

South Korea has been to nine World Cups, more than any other Asian team, and is regarded as one of the two flagship representatives of the Far East. But it has regressed considerably since reaching the semifinals when it co-hosted the 2002 tournament with Japan.


The Japanese also reached the second round in ‘02, Australia reached the second round in 2006 - after qualifying through Oceania and before switching to the Asian confederation - and Japan and South Korea both advanced to the knockout rounds in 2010.

South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo, who was captain in 2002 when the team made its run to the semifinals, thinks Asian football is going through a “transition period” with individual players improving drastically but national teams not yet enjoying the results.

“I think that each team played in different styles but overall there were a lot of deficiencies in the Asian teams,” he said through a translator. “We weren’t up to the standard … we weren’t good enough.”

Aside from the remarkable South Korean campaign a dozen years ago, Asian teams have not experienced much success on the world stage.

A relatively small number of Asian players are in the top European leagues and the sport didn’t establish mass appeal across the continent until much later than Europe, South America and Africa.

The lack of high-level competition between them has also contributed to the teams’ FIFA rankings having steadily dropped in the last year.

Asia’s top ranked team ahead of the tournament was Iran, at No. 43 - hardly impressive in a tournament comprising 32 teams.

Australia was the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, at No. 62.

While some of the performances were encouraging, the stark reality is not one of the Asian teams could manage a win. Japan and South Korea entered the tournament as strong contenders to progress from their groups, and to at least repeat their runs to the second round from 2010, but didn’t produce the quality games needed at the highest level.

By contrast, three of the four qualifiers from North and Central America advanced to the second stage and, for the first time, two African teams reached the knockout stages.

Australia had some good moments against some stronger opponents but ultimately lost all three games to Chile, the Netherlands and Spain. Iran had a 0-0 draw with Nigeria and managed to hold and occasionally threaten Argentina for 90 minutes, only to lose 1-0 to an injury-time goal by Lionel Messi. The Iranians, heavily criticized for a defensive system, then dropped their last game 3-1 to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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