A MIXED BAG SO FAR - South Korea v Greece 2-0, Japan v Cameroon 1-0, Germany v Australia 4-0, Brazil v North Korea 2-1, Argentina v South Korea 4-1 - but still the best to start by the Asian group at any FIFA World Cup.
FIFA itself notes the improvement and considers the numbers of Asian Football Confederation footballers playing in European competitions another indicator:
“Of the 736 players competing at this FIFA World Cup, more than two-thirds – 546 to be specific – play their club football in Europe. Twenty-nine of that number come from the Asian Football Confederation. Seventeen of Australia's squad are Europe-based while there are five in Japan's squad and six with Korea Republic.
"By contrast, when Japan and Korea suffered a whitewash of defeats at France 1998 – the first FIFA World Cup in which both countries competed – there was only one Europe-based player in the two squads combined, the Japanese playmaker Hidetoshi Nakata.”
China's official newsagency Xinhua reported that its national football team was shocked by South Korea's defeat of Greece. "One thing in common for Asian soccer teams is the lack of confidence. When they meet European teams, they are in an inferior position psychologically even before the matches start," said head coach Gao Hongbo.
"The South Korean team showed their confidence in the match against Greece and played well, which gives us a lesson worth learning … The progress achieved by South Korea is reasonable as a number of players of the team are playing at top European clubs. "I hope that we could also send more players to top European clubs, which will help us make progress," he said.
EVEN WITHOUT CHINA's participation in this World Cup (we project that the world's most populace country will host in 2026), early television ratings suggest the tournament will be the most-watched single-sport event in history. In Asia's participating countries:
- Japan’s opener against Cameroon, with an 11 pm kick-off (local time) attracted good ratings figures of between 40 and 45.2 for a late-night game.
- Australia’s opening humbling by Germany attracted 1.4 million on SBS, making it the eighth-most watched programme in the channel’s 30-year history. In Germany, the matched averaged 16 million people.
- South Korea’s opening game against Greece drew an audience share of 59.8% and a peak of 70.8%, making it the seventh highest World Cup match rating Korea has seen. The same match in China averaged 24 million viewers on CCTV5.
South Korean police estimated 1.5 million fans nationwide massed in public squares, stadiums and other sites to watch their team's second-game loss to Argentina. South Korea's Justice Ministry turned a blind eye to a 9 pm curfew for the nation's 50,000 convicts on game night and monks held World Cup parties in Buddhist temples.
North Koreans were also able to watch their national team's game against Brazil (their first World Cup appearance for 44 years) but it was broadcast a day after. The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union came to a late agreement with FIFA to beam the games into North Korea free of charge. "We want them to see what life is on the other side of the curtain," said John Barton, sports director of the broadcasting union.
REIGNING ASIAN CUP champions, Iraq, did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup but local interest in the tournament is undiminished. Associated Press interviewed a group of Iraqis watching Brazil play North Korea on their local cafe's television: Cafe owner Ahmad Nouri scooped ice cream and ordered waiters to work faster as the sound of cheers mingled with that of dominoes slapping against tables. "It makes me so happy to see people feel comfortable and enjoy the game," Nouri said. "We were deprived of this luxury during the last World Cup." Lighting a cigarette, Emad al-Zubaidi, 54, said, "People can breathe and see what's out there now."
In India, football may be punching through cricket’s marketing hegemony. According to the Economic Times, the World Cup telecasts are "evenly matched" against the India-West Indies cricket series with the FIFA tournament drawing in 44.4 million viewers compared to the cricket contest’s 49.2 million. The Nielsen Company reported that football sponsors in India are generating "unprecedented brand awareness" through their association with the World Cup.
Meanwhile Indonesia's Tempo magazine lamented the fate of Indonesian football: "the Indonesian team is still regarded as a pariah ... its competitive ability has not improved. Soccer pitches are vanishing, removing the opportunity to identify and train the best talents. As a result, Indonesia has to be content to be a spectator of this great soccer festival.
"There is much to be done if Indonesia wants to join the top class in international soccer. Besides problems of infrastructure and the lack of a competitive spirit, soccer performance is also influenced by politics and the economy ... It may just be theoretical, but corruption must be eradicated, the law upheld and political stability maintained even if we fail to qualify for international-standard soccer. Perhaps, being in better shape would be just the thing to get our national soccer team going."