Japan, Korea restore pride of Asia

Posted by John Duerden

Maximiliano Pereira Uruguay celeb v JordanAPJordan have little more than pride to salvage in the return leg against Uruguay.

There are not many positives to take from a 5-0 home thrashing handed out in the biggest game in your history when the world is watching for the very first time. You could point out that Jordan fought hard in the first leg of their 2014 World Cup play-off against Uruguay and you could point out the fact that the fans supported their team with passion and treated the visitors with a fair and sporting mind. But apart from that, there's not much.

There were flashes of hope in a raucous atmosphere at the Amman International Stadium, a shot here and a few corners there, but Uruguay came and gave a lesson in composure, coolness and class. It will be forgotten, perhaps already has, that the hosts were without the coach who led them through the three stages of qualification before the Asian play-off with Uzbekistan in September. Adnan Hamad had done a sterling job before parting ways with the team in the summer. We'll never know if things would have been different with the long-serving Desert Fox at the helm.

New man Hossam Hassan made a number of changes, though some, such as the suspension of star goalkeeper Amer Shafi, were out of his hands. The Egyptian took a fair bit of stick from the regional media after the game for getting his tactics and approach wrong. Nobody was expecting Jordan to give the 2010 World Cup semifinalists a footballing lesson, but Hassan was unable to calm down a nervous 11 for this biggest of games. It is hard to escape the conclusion that his Iraqi predecessor would have done a better job in that regard at least.

Now there can be only sympathy for Al Nashama as they make the lengthy trip -- made somewhat more comfortable by the lending of a Dubai jet from a local sheikh -- to Montevideo. The experience of having something to play for in Uruguay would have been an amazing one for the players. Now, they are the supporting cast in what is going to be a celebratory affair.

Jordan, never one of the continent's top teams, overachieved in getting as far as they did, and were unlucky to play opposition that underachieved in their part of the world. No team would relish a play-off against Uruguay. A week's salary from Luis Suarez would probably be enough to pay the majority of players in the Jordanian league.

Yet the absences and the achievement will be quickly forgotten. What is left is the fact that the team that finished fifth in the Asian zone of qualification for the 2014 World Cup got a global spanking. It doesn't do much for the image of Asian football, and more could be handed out Wednesday. The continent's reputation will not be on the minds of Jordan in South America, where it is now about damage limitation.

At least South Korea and Japan did their bit with fine performances and results against European opposition this weekend. Japan came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with the Netherlands on a misty afternoon in Belgium, the latest in the Samurai Blue mission to seek out tough opposition. Recent defeats put a little pressure on coach Alberto Zaccheroni. The Italian had been accused of being too loyal to his established starting 11. He did ring some changes in the Belgian city of Genk with Hotaru Yamaguchi coming in for the fading Yasuhito Endo in midfield and Yuya Osako getting a start in attack.

The Asian champions started well with Inter left-back Yuto Nagatomo looking lively, but once again slack defending gave the opponents the breakthrough. A poor header from Atsuto Uchida allowed Rafael Van Der Vaart to nip in and score. When Arjen Robben curled home a beauty into the top corner shortly after, another defeat looked certain.

Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda linked up well to salvage a draw against the Netherlands.
GettyImagesShinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda linked up well to salvage a draw against the Netherlands.

Yet Japan came back. A goal before the break from Osako provided a platform for an excellent second half. Shinji Kagawa came off the bench and renewed his partnership with Keisuke Honda, and the Blues clicked. At times, the passing was sublime and no more so on the hour when Honda, excellent after the break, finished off a slick passing move that was better than anything the Dutch could put together.

Sure, Japan had once again failed to defeat a major power when they probably should have done and, yes, once again, the defence was cause for concern, but there was much to be happy about this performance in the low countries. Tuesday's clash with Belgium should be a cracker.

South Korea also did their bit for eastern prestige with a fine 2-1 win over high-flying Switzerland in Seoul on Friday evening. It wasn't looking good after just seven minutes after the visitors, ranked seven in the world by FIFA, took the lead. Lee Yong gave the ball away and Kasima, despite the presence of a number of red shirts, fired a lovely low shot into the far corner from outside the area.

Korea, still finding their feet under new boss Hong Myung-bo, looked a little disjointed in the first half but were excellent after the break. Lee Chung-yong was once again a star performer in his country to leave fans wondering why the winger is playing in the English Championship with Bolton Wanderers.

Korea were just too fast for the tiring Swiss and created chance after chance. Both goals came in the rare form of headers. Augsburg's new centre-back Hong Jeong-ho powered home a corner and five minutes from time, Lee got the goal he and the team deserved with a fine header. It is not the first time this year that Korea have played well against solid opposition, but it is the first time the Taeguk Warriors have combined a good performance with the right result. Next it is Russia in Dubai. Korea are confident.

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