Asia's glorious failures

Glorious failure is not something to be celebrated too often and for too long but when the World Cup is not exactly going to plan for Asia then fans will take anything they can get.

In the last week the world of football fell in love with Australia and Iran, cruelly but dramatically defeated by two of the favourites for the 2014 World Cup, the Netherlands and Argentina. 

Both the Socceroos and Team Melli almost pulled off sensational results. Australia has played Japan plenty since joining the AFC but fans down under may be a little less familiar with Team Melli, as was much of the world. 

No longer. It took a spectacular injury-time winner from Lionel Messi to defeat the Persians and for once, this moment of magic from the world’s best player was greeted by a universal groan rather than the usual delight. 

Iran didn’t deserve it. Carlos Queiroz’s men started by frustrating the South Americans before taking the game to them after the break and had some excellent second half chances to take all three points. 2006 veterans Javad Nekounam and Andranik Teymourian were excellent in midfield, though it would be unfair to single any player out.

In practical terms, the goal means that Iran may not progress even with a win against already-eliminated Bosnia overnight, as a draw in the other game between Argentina and Nigeria ensures first and second for those two. Whatever happens however, the performance will live long in the memory of fans both inside and outside Asia.

Australia’s game with the Dutch was a roller-coaster of emotions before pride and optimism took over at the end. Pride for pushing a talented Netherlands side, 5-1 victors over defending champion Spain just days before, to the limit, and optimism for the future of a young team heading into the Asian Cup and beyond.

If Messi’s strike was good, it had nothing on Tim Cahill’s equalizing volley, the goal of the tournament so far. If it had all gone a little differently then the Socceroos could have had a point and still been in the hunt. They ended with a 3-0 loss to Spain but won plenty of admirers overall. 

Talk of goals, spectacular or otherwise will not be appreciated by Japanese fans after the team was held to a goalless draw by Greece.

It was the kind of game that Japanese fans have experienced before though never at the World Cup. Asian teams heading to Tokyo, Saitama, Osaka and elsewhere have often been happy to defend deep and in numbers and the Samurai Blue has sometimes struggled to break them down. Indeed, in November 2011 that was why Vietnam was invited to the Land of the Rising Sun for a friendly game, for the express purpose of practice playing against weaker opposition with limited ambition. It ended in a frustrating 1-0 win.

It had nothing on the events of last week though -turns out that the 2004 European champion is a little better at defending than Vietnam. Japan controlled possession though struggled to create real chances, with predictable attacking play that was fairly easy for the Greeks to deal with.

Even a man advantage for over half of the game, Japan couldn’t find a way through. 

Subsequently, Blue Samurai's 4-1 loss to Columbia ended their Brazil sojourn on a low.  

Korea is feeling no better after following a decent 1-1 draw against Russia by losing 4-2 to Algeria. It was a first half to forget for fans in the Land of the Morning Calm as the Africans raced into a three goal lead at half-time. The second period was better, it had to be, but just as Korea had established a foothold in the game, more sub-par defending nipped what could have been a dramatic comeback in the bud.

Another Asian defeat then, but we saw this week that not all defeats are equal. Having said that, with the final round of games approaching, some wins – of the ugly, lucky, glorious or any kind- would be welcome.