ASIAN teams bowed out before reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
But hats out to Japan, South Korea, and Australia for putting up one of the best-ever shows ever in the history of the tournament with sizzling upsets that shocked the world.
Japan was perhaps the most unfortunate in the ‘Round of 16’ as they held Croatia to a 1-1 draw after extra time but lost out 3-1 on mandatory penalty kicks.
Australia was edged out by Argentina 2-1 while Brazil overwhelmed South Korea 4-1.
Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu masterminded shock victories over Germany and Spain to top their group and they pushed the finalists from four years ago to penalties. But, having captured the adoration of those watching with likable fans who chant and bang their drums all game, it was another tournament that ended in heartbreak.
In 2018, they led 2-0 in the last 16 against Belgium and lost to a 94th-minute winner from Nacer Chadli. This time, they suffered agony in the shootout.
“We could not break through the round of 16 and could not see a new landscape,” Moriyasu told the media.
“We won against Germany and Spain who have been champions. The players showed a new era of Japanese football and they should use this feeling of being upset to try to win next time.”
Now the England-France quarterfinal tie looks especially mouth-watering: France is ranked fourth in the world, one place above England. Didier Deschamps’ side has gone one better than they did at the last major tournament – the delayed 2020 European Championship – where they lost to Switzerland on penalties in the last 16.
A special plus-point is France having Kylian Mbappe in their attack, who leads the race for the ‘Golden Boot’ with five goals so far, two more than any other player.
Interestingly, England and France have not met in the knockout rounds of a men’s major tournament before. They have played each other 31 times, with England winning 17 to France’s nine victories. The last time they met was in a friendly in June 2017, when France was 3-2 winners.
The rising team appears to be Brazil, and as a nation, they do not lack confidence when it comes to football fortunes. For this World Cup, those form levels are sky-high, and it is clear to see why, especially after the latest rousing 4-1 win over South Korea.
Brazil is probably most Singaporeans’ favorite, too. They have progressed from each of their last seven round-of-16 matches at the World Cup, only failing to win in normal time once during this run, progressing via penalties against Chile in 2014. They were last eliminated at this stage in 1990 against Argentina.
Look at their track record: Thirteen clean sheets in 17 qualifying games this time around with an average of 2.5 goals scored per game, all against the backdrop of severe loss of life in the country resulting from a global pandemic.
Now there is unity and belief. There is harmony to the samba beat. Let’s hope they carry Brazil to the final.
* Suresh Nair is an award-winning sports journalist who is also a qualified international coach and international referee instructor.
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