Early World Cup exits a lesson for Asia, says AFC head

BRASILIA Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:46pm EDT

New Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa delivers his address during an AFC Extraordinary Congress in Kuala Lumpur May 2, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

New Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa delivers his address during an AFC Extraordinary Congress in Kuala Lumpur May 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The winless World Cup showing by Asia's four teams is a wakeup call for the region, the head of AFC said on Friday, but the lackluster showing has not deterred calls for extra places at the finals from his members.

South Korea exited on Thursday after a 1-0 loss to Belgium condemned them to last place in Group H, the same position Japan, Iran and Australia managed in their four team pools as the region managed only a collective three points in Brazil.

It was the first time since the 1990 tournament in Italy that Asia didn't win a game at the finals, with the AFC the only Confederation competing in Brazil not to have a representative make the last 16.

"This World Cup serves as a lesson to all Asian nations," Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said in a statement.

"Asia must acknowledge its shortcomings, but at the same time we must believe in our own ability.

"The AFC is determined to unlock the full potential of Asian football, and that can only be achieved through hard work, dedication and unwavering support in AFC’s efforts to have equal and sustainable football development across the continent."

Asian teams have won just 14 matches at the World Cup since Indonesia - then the Dutch East Indies - first competed at the 1938 tournament in Italy. In comparison, South America's six representatives in Brazil have 13 wins already in the 2014 edition.

Only six Asian sides have made it through the first stage of a World Cup, with South Korea's fourth place at their home 2002 tournament looking a distant memory after the Brazil showing.

However, FIFA Vice-President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who has accused Sheikh Salman of playing politics in trying to take his role at the world governing body, believes Asia should see an increase to their four-and-a-half slots.

"Asia definitely deserves more spots for many reasons," the Jordanian Football head told Reuters earlier in the tournament.

"Two thirds of the global population and footballers are from Asia, it's the largest continent, we have 46 Members Associations and, most importantly, Asian football has taken impressive strides towards development. The future of football is Asia."

Those beliefs are not shared by all, though.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz stepped down after their campaign ended with a defeat by Bosnia, with the former Real Madrid coach long bemoaning the amateur set up as a hindrance to progress.

Queiroz said Asian policy of copying European practices was also a mistake and that training, competition and organization in the region was wrong.

"You cannot copy Europe because the day you thinkyou are close, they are one step ahead because they also progress," the Mozambique-born coach said.

"But the officials persist in copying Europe and year after year the gap is higher and higher. It is a pity because 60percent of the money in football comes from Asia and they have the worst conditions."

Sheikh Salman, who was elected last year, said he hoped that new initiatives in the administration of the game in Asia would result in an improved showing at the next World Cup in Russia.

"We must bring our game to the next level and there is no time to wait," he said.

"Football will not slow down and nor will the rest of the world. We look to enhance the overall quality of our football, from infrastructure, commercial, competition to administration."

(Reporting by Patrick Johnston, Editing by Nigel Hunt)