The Future of Asian Football: Why is Asia still trailing behind the rest of the world?

AFC Asian Cup Philippines vs Chinese Taipei Asian football
Philippines National Team in the AFC Women's Asian Cup. Source: Asian Football Confederation (AFC)

With the success stories of Australia, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines, among others, why are AFC teams still trailing European teams? Is it finally time for federations to increase their investment now that Asian teams succeed on international platforms like the FIFA World Cup? What significance does a platform like the World Cup have for Asian countries?

Asian football: Is success for Asian teams yet lagging behind Europe?

With the addition of Australia from the Oceania Football Confederation to the AFC in 2006, numerous Asian teams have enjoyed some international success. Teams such as Japan, Australia, Korea, and China have demonstrated their potential in competing on a global stage. Japan won the World Cup in 2011, the Olympic silver medal in 2012. Australia, Korea, and China have also had successful campaigns.

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China has dominated the Asian Cup on a regional level, winning it a record nine times. Japan has won it twice and Australia has won it once. While certain degrees of development have been seen recently, this has not always been the case. Australian international Steph Catley has experienced this growing up. In an interview before the Asian Cup this year, she emphasised how recently federations from several nations, have begun to invest in women’s football.

I think now the federations invest a lot in women’s football in Australia and Japan. But it hasn’t always been the case. And even for me growing up, where I started to where football is now, it definitely wasn’t the same.

Steph Catley to SportingHer

Despite their recent success and improvement, teams continue to lag far behind European and American elites. With the current AFC Asian Cup, teams such as Vietnam and the Philippines qualified for the World Cup for the first time in their history. The men’s teams have never qualified for the competition, and the women make history by qualifying. Thailand made its debut in 2019. The women’s squad was once again the first to qualify. So, why is there not enough investment? Investment to assist the teams in flourishing more on a global scale?

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Asian football: Minimum Requirements (Raising Standards and Investment)

Asian countries are still severely behind many European and American countries. Thailand’s debut game against World Champions USA resulted in a 13-0 loss. Japan may have won the World Cup in 2011, but the level of performance displayed has gradually fallen. Australia, Korea, and China are yet to reach their full potential. Performing on a global stage brings the world’s attention, pushing federations to do better. In an exclusive interview with the Norwegian international Ada Hegerberg, when asked about the importance of teams like Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam at the World Cup, she mentioned how these countries should be an inspiration.

It should be an inspiration for their respective countries, being the first team to qualify for World Cup. I hope that it sets an example in their own countries to continue to grow the football.

Ada Hegerberg

Ada Hegerberg returned to international football after a five-year exile. She decided to stop representing her country in 2017 as a protest due to a dispute with the Norwegian federation on how they treat women’s football.

I think that you need to start funding the teams much better from the federations at some point. You need to take these teams much, much more seriously. I think we have a long way to go in the culture of the federations to allow them to develop as a team and provide opportunities to women and players.

Ada Hegerberg
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Asian football: equipment and pitches

While opportunities might be necessary, so is the need for a bare minimum requirement of equipment and pitches. There needs to be a set of standard conditions that is a minimum for all teams. The importance of medical staff and other crew also needs to be considered. Training, recovery, and every necessary aspect of football need to be a minimum requirement for teams to function.

We’ve all heard all these stories from years about equipment, travelling, conditions, and lack of fields. There’s a minimum I think you should have to practice your football, especially in a federation where you’re with your national team. And that’s a matter of respect.

Ada Hegerberg

New Emerging Regional Powerhouses

If the 2022 Asian Cup has taught us anything, there is plenty of talent in Asia. With Thailand paving the way for more teams to take the leap and qualify for tournaments like the World Cup. We saw Iran make its first major international tournament debut too. Teams like the Philippines and Vietnam performing well at the regional games only gives us more hopes that more significant development will allow these teams to be even better on the world stage. There is still a long way to go, but the development surely needs to start somewhere. While speaking to the media, Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas talked about the significance of developing football nations making it to the World Cup.

I think it’s very important because the more countries that have plans to develop women’s football, the better the spectacle. I believe all countries of the world should do it and with all the support required from FIFA or their local confederation because I think it’s an obligation to do that.

Alexia Putellas to ABS-CBN News
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With development comes more competition making the tournaments more unpredictable. That unpredictability and rise in the level of the games is what women’s football needs. Currently, only a few federations worldwide are heavily investing in women’s football. The 2022 Asian Cup was a perfect example. Australia went in as the favourites to win the tournament, only for the Korean Republic to beat them in the quarter-final. An intense semi-final between Korea and Japan for which Japan was the favourite bowed down to the Koreans after the penalty shootout. Lastly, in the final, China PR made the most amazing second-half comeback from being down 2-0 at halftime to win 3-2 in the end. It’s the unpredictable competition that keeps both fans and players engaged.

At this summer’s European Championship, about eight teams could easily win it. And the World Cup is the same. I think it’ll be a very even World Cup with a lot of competition

Alexia Putellas to ABS-CBN News

Future with AFC Women’s Club Championship

The Asian Football Confederation has hosted the Women’s Club Championship in 2019 and 2021. Four teams from various associations competed in a single round-robin tournament. To keep the tournament alive in the future, we need to invest more in the leagues of these associations. This brings us back to the start. With the exception of the A league in Australia, Asia lacks professional leagues compared to Europe and the Americas. Perhaps this is another reason why Asian countries continue to lag.

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Asia has a lot of potential. Due to a lack of funding, they aren’t the famous names you hear about all the time. A platform like the World Cup is critical for influencing the federations’ thinking. And ideally, with the rapid expansion in the world of women’s football, Asian countries will soon be on the same level as the rest of the world.

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