The state of football in Asia – East & ASEAN

So, with the conclusion of the first 6 games of the final stage of World Cup qualifiers for the AFC, I thought I’d have a go at giving my perspective on the state of football in East Asia.

When I think about East Asia, I am specifically referring to the East Asian and South East Asian groups. West Asia is West, Central and South Asia, and I’ll touch on them in a separate post.

Rankings

CountryFederationMen’s RankWomen’s RankOverall AFC Rank
JapanEast Asia28 (2)13 (3)5
AustraliaSouth East Asia34 (3)11 (2)5
South KoreaEast Asia35 (4)18 (5)9
ChinaEast Asia75 (9)17 (4)13
VietnamSouth East Asia98 (15)32 (6)21
North KoreaEast Asia110 (20)9 (1)21
ThailandSouth East Asia117 (22)39 (7)29
PhilippinesSouth East Asia127 (23)68 (13)36
MyanmarSouth East Asia145 (26)46 (10)36
Hong KongEast Asia148 (27)76 (15)42
MalaysiaSouth East Asia155 (30)92 (18)48
Chinese Taipei (Taiwan)East Asia158 (32)40 (8)40
SingaporeSouth East Asia160 (33)130 (25)58
IndonesiaSouth East Asia165 (35)96 (19)54
CambodiaSouth East Asia170 (36)NR (33)69
MacauEast Asia182 (37)NR (33)70
MongoliaEast Asia184 (38)125 (24)62
LaosSouth East Asia185 (39)NR (33)72
BruneiSouth East Asia189 (41)NR (33)74
Timor-LesteSouth East Asia194 (42)NR (33)75
GuamEast Asia206 (46)83 (16)62

Laos, Macau, Brunei and Timor-Leste

Laos, Macau, Brunei and Timor-Leste all missed out on qualification. Brunei has a side that plays in the Singaporean Premier League, but it clearly hasn’t helped them. The Macau Liga de Elite does not appear to be much of a development ground, with a tiny number of squad players making it to Hong Kong at most. The unwillingness to play in the second leg of the first round of World Cup qualifiers condemned them to years of inadequacy.

Laos could perform better but with only 5 teams in the Lao Premier League, they need to go elsewhere for games. A few are playing in Thailand and one is playing at PSG. I believe their local league needs to improve significantly in the next 20 years or so before they become a valid threat.

Timor-Leste, on the other hand, is currently dealing with the aftermath of a naturalization scandal. It saw them barred from participating in the qualification tournament for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup after being found to have fielded a total of twelve ineligible players in 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification matches and among other competitions

Guam, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei and Indonesia

All four nations were poor in the 2nd stage of World Cup qualifying and Asian Cup qualifying. In defense of Guam and Cambodia, they had to get through the first round to even make it to this stageā€”Guam defeated Bhutan and Cambodia defeated Pakistan. To be honest, I’m hoping that Cambodia starts performing better in the next decade or so, so they are no longer at the bottom of groups in this scenario.

These four nations had to play off for the last two spots in Asian Cup qualifying over two legs. Cambodia defeated Guam 3-1, while Indonesia smashed Chinese Taipei. Indonesia should be far better than being in this position, given their extensive league system.

Indonesia has enormous potential and I look forward to seeing them play against Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship in December. In fairness, I have the same thoughts about Cambodia, but I fear for their potential. They should be performing much better given the money they are spending.

Mongolia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong

Malaysia and Singapore did a lot better in qualifying than many expected. Singapore picked up a win at home against Palestine and one away to Yemen. They can probably hope to improve in the AFF Championship at home in December. The league is small but focusing heavily on youth development, which offers promise for the future of the small city-state.

Malaysia definitely outperformed in the World Cup qualifiers, particularly with two wins over Thailand and two over Indonesia. While they will be disappointed about not getting any points against local powerhouses Vietnam, their home game against the United Arab Emirates was only a 2-1 loss, an admirable loss. The Malaysian league shows huge passion, so it will be interesting to see how they progress in coming years.

Mongolia received some massive drubbings in World Cup qualifying, with Japan putting 20 of their 46 goals past Mongolia. However, Mongolia still picked up two wins – one against higher ranked Myanmar and an away win against the very highly ranked Kyrgyzstan Republic. Mongolia has potential at an international level, but their local league is practically unknown. I’m not convinced that they will be big players in East Asia any time soon.

Hong Kong’s league situation is in turmoil right now, with local clubs struggling to find the funds to keep them afloat. I would not be at all surprised if the league falls apart or some Hong Kong clubs seeks to move to the Chinese Super League. Having said that, Hong Kong did not get any significant beatings except from Iran or Bahrain. Their biggest problem is their inability to score, and their naturalization policy may need to be reassessed going forward.

Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and North Korea

North Korea usually has the capacity to push nations hard in qualifying, but their withdrawal from pretty much all international sport due to COVID opened a lot of opportunities in their group. They probably pushed Lebanon into second place over Turkmenistan, although better pundits than I could argue about that. At the same time, there are North Korean players in a bunch of leagues around the world, including France, Japan, Austria, Qatar and South Korea. There’s potential there for some Asian nations to sign a North Korean as their +1.

Myanmar picked up two wins, one against Mongolia and a 4-3 thriller against Tajikistan. They also got smashed by Japan 10-0 and 8-1 by Kyrgyzstan. The Myanmar league needs a lot of work, but who knows what is going to happen given the current state of the country.

Thailand was extremely disappointed with its performance in World Cup qualifying – finishing fourth in what was an extremely competitive group. Only two wins and three draws disappointed their loyal fans and has had them calling for significant changes. However, many feel that it is unlikely to happen. It’s a big drop from when they were fighting for the final spots 4 years ago.

The Philippines, on the other hand, did extremely well in a group they were never going to get out of. They picked up 6 points against Guam and 4 points against a disappointing Maldives, and even held China to a 0-0 draw at home. Finishing third in the group could see the Philippines become a bigger footballing powerhouse. Hopefully the local league expands rapidly to account for this.

Japan, Australia, South Korea, China and Vietnam

Japan, Australia and South Korea all aced their groups, with no points dropped. China finished second in their group behind Syria while Vietnam finished second behind the United Arab Emirates.

In this final stage of qualifying, it’s been a more interesting story.

South Korea are 2nd in the group behind Iran. They’ve won 4 and drawn 2.

In the other group are Japan, Australia, China and Vietnam.

Japan is currently top of the group in 2nd place with 3 wins and 2 losses.

Australia is third – having won 3, drawn 2 and lost 1.

China is fifth with 1 win, 2 draw and three losses while Vietnam is last, having dropped all 6 of their games.

Japan’s performance has been unusual – fans are calling for Hajime Moriyasu to be sacked if he does not get better results for the team. However, their recent performances seems to have quelled that commentary. Australian fans are now concerned about the performance of the Socceroos, given that they have dropped to third in the group. Chinese fans are angry (which seems to be their base position), considering that the Chinese Super League has not played any significant matches for months while players have been in camp. Vietnam will feel like they should be doing better in the current situation, but they have certainly not been poor by any stretch of the imagination.

South Korea has played three matches at home so far, which gives them a double stretch away from home in January/February.

Based on the way the results are panning out so far, I would predict that Japan and South Korea will progress to the World Cup from East/South East Asia. Australia needs to do some work in the January and March windows to make up some ground, and hope that Japan or Saudi Arabia slips up. Otherwise they will have to go through the intercontinental playoffs.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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