The one deficiency each of Asia's World Cup hopefuls must address before Qatar 2022

The one deficiency each of Asia’s World Cup hopefuls must address before Qatar 2022

With the third round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup now completed, the continent’s lineup for the year-end tournament is just about set in stone.

Qatar‘s place was confirmed from the time they were announced as the host nation, and they will definitely be joined by South Korea, Iran, Japan and Saudi Arabia — who all successfully negotiated their way through the qualifiers.

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For the second edition running, Asia will have a record five representatives at the World Cup and it could yet be more — with the winner of the United Arab Emirates–Australia playoff then due to do battle with South America’s own fifth-placed qualifier Peru with one of two final tickets to the tournament up for grabs in the inter-confederation playoffs.

There will now be just under eight months for teams to prepare for the World Cup, with limited international windows to work out any kinks on the field — so what’s some of the deficiencies Asia’s hopefuls will have to address?

QATAR

In what will be their maiden FIFA World Cup appearance, Qatar will also have to deal with the added pressure of being the host nation. Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

For the first time in over four decades, Qatar will grace the World Cup — a milestone they have been preparing for since they won the rights to hold the tournament back in 2010.

Qatar have made great improvement in recent times, evident in their AFC Asian Cup 2019 triumph as well as their run to the semifinals of last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup as a guest team, but the World Cup is a different proposition altogether.

Being the hosts come with a certain pressure and it is worth noting that, in 22 previous editions of the World Cup, only once has a home side failed to make it past the first stage (South Africa in 2010).

If Qatar embrace the expectations that will be on them, and rise to the occasion, it could be a debut to remember. But if they are burdened by it, their maiden World Cup adventure could be over before they know it.

SOUTH KOREA

Japan have qualified for a 7th consecutive FIFA World Cup — but do they have enough firepower to get out of the group stage at Qatar 2022? Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Having one of the world’s best players to call one of your own can never be a bad thing, but it can also lead to an unhealthy overreliance — which is what is what South Korea must avoid with Son Heung-min.

While he has not exactly had to drag them over the line in the Asian qualifiers, the Tottenham star is usually the one that comes good when the Taegeuk Warriors are most in need of inspiration.

There are others who are fully capable of easing the burden on Son’s shoulders. Having risen to prominence at Red Bull Salzburg, Hwang Hee-chan is yet to fully get going since moving to the Premier League with Wolves, while Hwang Ui-jo has enjoyed a couple of creditable campaigns with Ligue 1 outfit Bordeaux but is hardly prolific at international level — even if he does bring much more to the team than just goals.

Having Son as Plan A is not a problem. A lack of a Plan B could be.

IRAN

Despite comfortably qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there have been reports of growing unrest in the Iran camp between coach Dragan Skocic and several key players. STRINGER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Iranian football is currently reaping the rewards of a golden generation, with a significant number of internationals not just plying their trade in Europe but — in the case of Porto‘s Mehdi Taremi and Bayer Leverkusen‘s Sardar Azmoun — starring in some of the biggest leagues.

Having narrowly finished behind heavyweights Spain and Portugal in the 2018 group stage, Team Melli look to have a real shot at reaching the knockout round yet all may not be well in paradise.

Late last year, Taremi was dropped from the side following a reported conflict with coach Dragan Skocic. While the two have since buried the hatchet, rumours now suggest that there is friction between Croatian tactician and Azmoun, with some reports even claiming Skocic will be sacked in due course.

With all that talent ready to shine, Iran can ill afford have their World Cup ruined before it begins by disharmony within the ranks.

JAPAN

Yuya Osako continues to lead the line admirably for Japan, but coach Hajime Moriyasu’s reluctance to blood others could lead to a lack of viable alternatives should the need arise. Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Appearing at the World Cup for a 7th consecutive edition, and having reached the Round of 16 last time out, getting out of the group stage — barring being dealt a terrible hand in Friday’s draw — should be the minimum expectation for Japan.

Nonetheless, as they have shown throughout the qualifiers, there is a genuine concern that this Samurai Blue outfit is lacking in firepower.

Having ended his time in Europe to return to Vissel Kobe, who have made a woeful start to the 2022 J1 League season, Yuya Osako remains Japan’s main main in attack and — to his credit — continues to offer Japan plenty. Against top-level opposition, however, there is suspicion he poses a limited threat.

If the Japanese are to have more strings to their bow, it is imperative that someone like Takumi Minamino — a more multi-dimensional attacker — raises his consistency and output, or that coach Hajime Moriyasu starts to give more exposure to fellow Europe-based guns such as Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia sealed top spot in Group B of the Asian third round qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup following a 1-0 win over Australia on Tuesday evening. AP Photo/Sultan Mansour

Quite simply, the jury is out on whether Saudi Arabia have enough big-time experience to handle playing on world football’s grandest stage — even if their performances in the Asian qualifiers have been impressive.

That is not to say that all the exploits their players have had playing at Asian Cups and in the AFC Champions League — the continent’s premier club competition — count for nothing, but the World Cup is undoubtedly a step up.

To their credit, barring an opening day 5-0 loss to hosts Russia, the Green Falcons did give a respectable account of themselves in 2018 as they narrowly lost 1-0 to Uruguay before beating a Mohamed Salah-led Egypt 2-1.

Whether or not this limited exposure at the highest level is enough to take them further than the group stage of Qatar 2022 remains to be seen.

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