Asia's eyes on dream World Cup draw

Posted by John Duerden

Tim Cahill, Australia, and indeed all of Asia, would relish the opportunity to battle old rivals.GettyImagesTim Cahill, Australia, and indeed all of Asia, would relish the opportunity to battle old rivals.

Just like fans everywhere, those in Asia are getting ready for the big draw -- probably running those addictive simulations like the one on ESPN FC -- and talking about which teams Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea want to get when the balls come out in Brazil.

It goes without saying that in realistic and pragmatic terms, a group containing something along the lines of Switzerland, Greece and Ecuador -- no disrespect to these teams, of course -- would be very well-received in Seoul, Sydney, Tokyo and Tehran. Let's be honest, it would be a dream group.

But when we talk the kind of opposition that gets pulses racing, the kind of rivals of which World Cup memories and dreams are made of, then there are some especially close to Asian hearts.

England -- For the Asian quartet, England are not only one of the biggest, most familiar and glamorous football names in the world, helped by the ubiquity of the Premier League, they are also perhaps the most beatable. For Australia however, the feeling goes a little deeper.

The two countries are divided by half a world but when it comes to sport, there is plenty of shared history with a rivalry to match. This is usually confined to other sports but a meeting at the World Cup would blow the Ashes, as the cricket encounters between the two are known, out of the water.

The Socceroos (a nickname the Australians use) and the Three Lions (a nickname the English don't) have never met on a competitive basis. There was a friendly in 2003 in London. England's coach at the time Sven Goran-Erikssen perhaps didn't appreciate the rivalry, changing his entire eleven at half-time. The men in the green and gold took it more seriously and deservedly won 3-1. It is a result still talked about Down Under and one that still rankles in England.

Italy -- If it is not the mother country then a chance to revenge the controversial elimination at the 2006 World Cup with Italy when Fabio Grosso took a last-minute tumble in the penalty area would be welcome.

Failing that, a test against Brazil and France, after recent 6-0 thrashings, could be a useful chance to see how far the new Socceroos have progressed under new coach Ange Postecoglou.

Italy -- The Asian champion is perhaps the one out of all the four that would actively welcome a genuine giant in Brazil 2014. Japan want to announce that they have arrived on the world stage, and what better way to do it than to overcome a genuine power?

In 2002, Russia and Tunisia were defeated then in 2010 it was Cameroon and Denmark --all good teams but none coming close to being the superpower scalp that the Samural Blue crave.

Coach Alberto Zaccheroni would certainly relish the chance to cross swords with his native Italy. It would be a sentiment widely shared after the thrilling 4-3 defeat suffered at the hands of the Azzurri at the 2013 Confederations Cup. It was a game that Japan should have won but they'd swap that for victory on the world stage. If that wasn't enticing enough then it should not be forgotten that Italy don’t have a great record against East Asian teams.

Brazil -- The hosts, disher out of two convincing defeats in the last 13 months would be another attractive opponent. The South American nation has played its own little part in the development of Japanese football and a victory for the Land of the Rising Sun would be meaningful indeed.

Germany -- There are so many Japanese stars active in the Bundesliga at the moment (with Shinji Kagawa a glittering alumni) that coach Zac could almost field a German-based starting eleven. A Japan-Germany game would be a fascinating one.

United States -- Forget the France-Brazil final and the issue with the original Ronaldo, the real event of the 1998 World Cup was the meeting between Iran and the United States in Lyon.

Unfortunately, with Asia and CONCAFAF likely to share the same pot, a rematch would have to happen in the knockout stages. That really would be something special.

Iran and USA exchange flowers 1998 World Cup GettyImagesIran's 1998 World Cup clash with USA was expected to be politically charged, but was ultimately a peaceful affair.

Portugal -- There are no prizes for guessing which team Iran coach Carlos Queiroz would like to face. Cristiano Ronaldo's performance for Portugal against Sweden in the playoffs recently had the entire planet united in praise though his former national team boss was a little less effusive. "Congratulations to Cristiano," Queiroz said. "If he had played like that, at that height of responsibility, we would have beaten Spain."

That may have been a belated dig at Ronaldo's response immediately following that 1-0 defeat when the golden boy simply replied "ask Queiroz" when asked why Portugal had lost. With Portugal and Ronaldo ending Iran’s last World Cup dream back in 2006, revenge would be a dish served to the entire nation.

Spain -- Team Melli midfielder Andranik Teymourian recently told ESPN that he wanted to face Spain, a sentiment echoed by midfield partner and long-time lynchpin Javad Nekounam who spent six seasons in La Liga with Osasuna.

South Korea
England -- After defeating Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, South Korea, which like much of Asia, looks to the English Premier League first and foremost when it comes to European football, wouldn't mind a crack at the Three Lions. This is especially true of the stars who play in England such as Ki Sung-yeung, Kim Bo-kyoung, Lee Chung-yong and even occasionally Ji Dong-won. Should Park Chu-young ever find some playing time and return to the national team, the Arsenal striker would love nothing more than scoring the goal to knock the English out.

Italy -- That is what Ahn Jung-hwan, then struggling to make the pitch with Perugia, did to the Azzurri in 2002 and fans in Italy haven’t stopped complaining since. The Taeguk Warriors would perhaps welcome a chance to show the 2006 World Cup winners that it wasn't a fluke.

Holland -- Given the extensive Dutch influence on the coaching side since the turn of the century, a meeting with the Oranje would be an exciting one.


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