Asia’s slow start at World Cup

Two points out of a possible 12. This was not exactly the kind of start to the 2014 World Cup that fans in Asia were hoping for. Two defeats and two draws do not quite tell the full story however.

The last in action came the closest to collecting the confederation’s first win. South Korea was in the lead against Russia with less than 20 minutes left but yin quickly followed yang as Lee Keun-ho’s lucky 68th minute strike - fumbled into the net by Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev - was soon cancelled out by a fortunate equaliser.

Korea is satisfied however. Results in the build-up had been very poor with the defence even worse. A solid performance at the back was necessary and was delivered against Fabio Capello’s men. If the lively Son Heung-min of Bayer Leverkusen could have kept his shots a little lower and Arsenal’s Park Chu-young could have got more involved then a win would not have been far away.

The upcoming clash with Algeria is crucial, as it was always going to be. With former Brisbane resident Ki Seung-yeung looking magisterial in the middle then a third appearance in four knockout stages is a real possibility.

That was just the second draw in the opening round of games, the first coming 24 hours earlier. Iran didn’t go with the general flow in Brazil, there were no goals and less excitement for the neutral. Fans back home though were generally satisfied. Never in their team’s three previous appearances at the World Cup had it not been defeated in the opening game.

A little bit of boredom for the neutrals is a small price to pay for changing that sorry statistic as well collecting a first ever clean sheet. That is what Iran does. Under the firm hand of Carlos Queiroz, the team conceded just twice in eight games in the final round of qualification.

Add all that together and the focus on not conceding was not a surprise –perhaps the only thing that raised eyebrows was the selection of Alireza Haghighi, the man expected to be third choice ‘keeper – but it was a defensive master-class.

The back four was inspired, with a little more forward runs from midfield and a little more movement to support the tireless Reza Ghoochannejhad in attack, the point may have become three.

That was perhaps the only regret, if not a big one, Iran could have won. Argentina will obviously present a tougher test. A repeat result would be a huge deal leaving Iran where it wants to be –in with a chance heading into the final game.

Australia, in the first 20 minutes anyway, and Japan for the last 30, could have done with such defensive discipline as it crashed to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Ivory Coast.

Keisuke Honda had done the hard part in making Yaya Toure look human and then making then goalkeeper look statuesque as he thumped a shot into the top corner in the 16th minute. It was one of the most delicious pieces of skill in the first round.

It was all for nothing as the usual pass and move groove that Asia knows so well disappeared and a passive Japan was pushed back by a more physical and direct African opposition and two goals in two minutes won it for the Elephants.

For Japan, the big names didn’t bring their big games and something has to change against Greece. It is a mutual must-win match.

If Japan’s loss was unexpected, Australia’s was a little less surprising. All expected a tough test from a talented Chile team and conceding two quick goals promised the worst but then, inspired by Tim Cahill and Mathew Leckie, the Socceroos came back.

In the end, the 3-1 scoreline flattered the South Americans. Australia could and probably should have come away with a draw.

Not to worry, the Netherlands are next! Asia has started slowly but is ready to pick up the pace.