Representatives of the Asian Football Confederation have highlighted the continent's increasing development at the FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa, with two of the four, Japan and South Korea, making it through the group stage to the second round. Australia and North Korea go no further. After South Korea's qualification was confirmed, AFC president, Mohamed Bin Hammam said, “their achievement has made millions of Asians proud. It has also underlined the calibre of Asian football.”
In comparison, no Asian team made it to the second round of the World Cup in Germany in 2006. Australia, which did, was then representing the Oceania Football Confederation. This year, as a member of the AFC, Australia again won one game and drew one but has been sent home earlier because of a goal difference deficit; the result of a 0-4 defeat by Germany in its first game.
The OFC made an impact for the second World Cup in a row with this year's representative, New Zealand, completing its group stage undefeated and finishing third - above 2006 World Cup champion Italy.
The NZ 'All Whites' were never expected to perform so well, particularly as six of its 23-man squad currently play in Australia's professional A-League.
However the Socceroos, who only fielded only one current A-League player in its squad, Jason Culina, are expected to rely more on-up-and-coming locally-based players in the domestic competition to rebuild its squad following a large number of expected retirements. Socceroo star, Harry Kewell, has called for a mandatory rule forcing A-league clubs to field at least three under-21 players.
According to the chairman of Football Federation Australia, Frank Lowy, the A-League will undergo further enhancements to support the national team. "We need the clubs to be run more professionally ... I think we also probably need a bit more Australian content on the field. And I think the A-League should use more of the youngsters. And I'll talk about that later in the next two or three months that we have a plan, what we need to do to achieve that. And I think supporters will come, spectators will come if the game is attractive enough. Because those younger players, of course they are the future, so we need to kind of bring them further forward than what we have done in the last few years," he said.
With additional clubs entering the competition, the A-League's season is expected to extend longer in the year, perhaps to April or May, which will mean more of its players will be conditioned for selection in June-July tournaments such as the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Australia and other leading Asian football nations will be using the 2011 Asian Cup finals, to be held in Qatar next January, and the following qualifiers for the 2012 Olympic Games in London(an U23 tournament), as the springboard for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil.
Sixteen nations will fight out the 2011Asian Cup after a complicated qualifying process which included the promotion of India from the developing nation's AFC Cup. The group stage has been confirmed as:
Group A - Qatar, Kuwait, China, Uzbekistan
Group B - Saudi Arabia, Japan, Jordan, Syria
Group C - South Korea, India, Australia, Bahrain
Group D - Iraq, North Korea, United Arab Emirates, Iran
Thirty-four teams will fight it out for Asia's three spots in the 2012 Olympic Games: Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.