Qatar is getting ready to host the 22nd FIFA world cup in 2022. In its 92 years of history, this is the second time an Asian country has chosen to host the world’s most prominent tournament. Asia, the largest and most populous mainland, was never in the spotlight of football like Europe and Latin America. Even though Asia has large football viewership, “insomniac” enthusiasts, and decent investments, Asians failed to establish a football powerhouse. But over the past decade, the leagues in Asia have started to generate more revenue. Big “names” in football are willing to play in these Asian leagues, the players trained by these leagues getting recruited to Europe’s glamorous leagues.
South Korea, Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Australia are the Asian football confederation’s top contenders in FIFA world cups. They all performed remarkable moments in international football history, but they were never a challenge for the titles. South Korea participated in 10 World Cups, including the miraculous semi-final entry in 2002. Japan appeared in 6 World Cups. The rest of “Fab 5” competed in 5 world cups each though no one passed the pre-quarter matches. Populous nations like China and India were never on the scene. China participated in the 2002 Japan – Korea World Cup.
The Asian Football Confederation embraced criticism for its directionless approaches and strategies. They failed to present quality tournaments and leagues, and the domestic boards were also weak. For example, the financial unsustainability of the All India Football Federation – they failed to manage, market, and support one of the oldest rivalries in club football between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, which had huge supporters and millions of viewership. Besides India, all major South-East Asian competitors in global tournaments are also disappearing.
The 2002 World Cup was a real game-changer for the region. The success of the South Korean national team increased football’s popularity in the sphere and began to attract more investments. As academies, leagues, and infrastructure improved, it led to emerging world-class professional players from the region. With the cooperation of European clubs, they offered quality football in the realm. The evolution of Asian football superstars like Tottenham’s Son Heung-min influenced many players and authorities to football growing.
Japan’s J1 League, South Korea’s K League 1, Saudi Arabia’s S.P.L, the U.A.E.’s Pro League, and Qatar’s Star League are some remarkable professional leagues in the region. Asian football clubs started to rejoice in the sports tabloids by signing great footballers at a monstrous price. China’s Chinese Super League (C.S.L) and India’s Indian Super League (I.S.L) are great examples of Asia’s changing outlook on football. C.S.L. once stunned the European football market by depositing a tremendous amount for bringing players to the league. Cricket-addicted Indians returning to football stadiums made I.S.L. one of the emerging tournaments in the region. In terms of Social media viewerships and associations, the Indian football clubs have now started featuring in the world’s top charts.
Asia is expecting eight spots at the 2026 World Cup in a 48 team format. This will help with the participation of China and India along with “Fab 5”. Definitely, there is no competitor for football in terms of popularity – no single sport can influence people as football did. Pundits say football is now a part of global politics. Saudi and Qatar wanted to cover their human rights issues through football, whereas China and Japan are fighting to dominate the continent and Indians are seeking more investments.