Japan vs Paraguay: Penalty-kick heartbreak for Japan, but Asian soccer on the rise
Japan fell 3-5 on penalty kicks at the end of a hard-fought scoreless Japan vs Paraguay match that revealed just how far Asian soccer has come.
Today’s defensive battle was, in many ways, a litmus test for whether Asian soccer has truly arrived.Skip to next paragraph
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There’s no question that Asian soccer has improved in the past couple decades. And this World Cup bears that out.
Both Japan and South Korea (Asia’s other elite team) advanced out of the first round by beating extremely talented African nations (Cameroon and Nigeria, respectively) that have some of the world’s best players, as well as solid European teams (Denmark and Greece, respectively), before being outclassed by soccer powerhouses (the Netherlands and Argentina, respectively).
Excluding 2002 – when Japan and South Korea co-hosted the World Cup and enjoyed the benefits of playing at stadiums stuffed with home fans – Saudi Arabia is the only “Asian” team to have made it out of the group stage since North Korea’s shocking advance to the quarterfinals in England in 1966.
So South Korea and Japan have demonstrated progress. But can they really compete with the world’s best?
The answer: Not quite.
Despite a valiant and impressive performance in the pouring rain on Saturday, South Korea fell to Uruguay (another solid but second-tier South American team) after a brilliant late strike by striker Luis Suarez. The Reds often looked as good or better than a very good Uruguay team, yet couldn’t find a way to win.