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Documenting the performance of Asian countries at the FIFA World Cup in 20th Century.

Official poster of the 1930 Football World Cup designed by Guillermo Laborde (1886-1940)
Official poster of the 1930 Football World Cup designed by Guillermo Laborde (1886-1940)
vikas srivastava

Asia, the largest continent in the world, has 48 countries and more than 4 billion people. It is the home to most of the world's population and several economic powers and expected to have its fair share of talent, yet its performance at the World Cup is far from satisfactory. Teams from the Asia continent have reached the quarterfinal stage only twice in the history, South Korea reached the semifinals on the home turf in 2002, and North Korea reached the last eight in 1966 in England.

According to Wikipedia, football is the most popular sport in Asia, but they never really seem to compete at the world stage and often end up as the worst performing region in the World Cup.

They have a long legacy of failure at the biggest carnival of football. Let's have a look at Asia's history at the FIFA World Cup in 20th Century.


1930 World Cup, Uruguay

Uruguay hosted the first ever football World Cup in 1930. Most of the European countries did not send their teams as travelling to South America was difficult at that time. Citing the same reason, no team from Asia entered the competition. Most of the nations did not want to undertake a 3-week journey across the ocean to Uruguay.


1934 World Cup, Italy

1934 World Cup is unique because it was the first and the last World Cup where host team needed to qualify. There were 16 spots out which 12 were allocated to Europe, three to the Americas, and one to Africa or Asia.

Egypt won the qualifying spot, and hence World Cup proceeded with no teams from Asia.


1938 World Cup, France

Postage stamp commemorating 1938 FIFA World Cup
Postage stamp commemorating 1938 FIFA World Cup

France hosted the 1938 football World Cup. For the first time in history, a team from Asia qualified for the tournament. Indonesia became the first Asian team to compete in the World Cup. They entered the competition under the name Dutch East Indies. Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony comprising of present Indonesia.

Back then World Cup was a straight knockout tournament, and Indonesia holds the record of playing least matches at the World Cup. They bowed out of the competition after suffering a 6-0 defeat against the mighty Hungarians.

1950 World Cup, Brazil

A 1950 Brazilian stamp promoting the tournament.
A 1950 Brazilian stamp promoting the tournament.

India automatically got qualified for the 1950 World Cup after Burma, Philippines and Indonesia withdrew before the draw.

Later India also withdrew because the cost of travelling to Brazil was too much to bear for a newly independent country. There are some reports which say that India withdrew from the tournament because FIFA refused their request to play barefoot.

FIFA decided to proceed the tournament without teams from Asia.


1954 World Cup, Brazil

World Cup Finals, 1954 Switzerland. The Stade Olympique Stadium during the Finals.
World Cup Finals, 1954 Switzerland. The Stade Olympique Stadium during the Finals.

In the qualifying rounds, Asia continent was allocated one place out of 16 in the final tournament. South Korea defeated Japan in the qualification round and participated in the World Cup for the first time in their history. Sadly they were humiliated and embarrassed as they lost 0-9 to Hungry and 0-7 to Turkey and finished last in the tournament.


1958 World Cup, Sweden

Pele, King of Sweden
Pele with King of Sweden

Even before the qualification round got underway, China, Sudan, and other countries withdrew, and as a result, only Israel was left.

Technically they would have qualified to the final tournament, but FIFA announced a rule that a team must play at least one qualifier to play in the concluding tournament. So a special inter-confederation playoff was arranged between Wales and Israel, and sadly Israel lost, and that meant no Asian team at the 1958 World Cup.

1962 World Cup, Chile

Brazil national football team in the World Cup, 1962
Brazil national football team in the World Cup, 1962

South Korea made it to the inter-confederation playoff by beating Japan. Much to their bad luck, they had to face a strong Yugoslavia team that ended up making the semifinals in the tournament. Again, no nation from Asia qualified for the World Cup.


1966 World Cup, England

Weber and Artime during a match between West Germany and Argentina
Weber and Artime during a match between West Germany and Argentina

Before the qualification round started, FIFA announced that there will be only 1 qualifying spot for all of Asia, Africa, and Oceania. It was one of the most questionable decisions at that time. Except for North Korea and Australia, everybody chose to boycott the World Cup.

North Korea earned the qualification spot, but there was no chance that they will do anything well. North Korea proceeded to topple Italy and became the first ever Asian team to make it out of their group. They almost caused a second massive shock when leading Portugal 3-0 in the quarterfinals, but unfortunately, Portugal punched back, and North Korea blew the game.

This was the best performance by an Asian country at the FIFA World Cup.


1970 World Cup, Mexico

Soccer - FIFA World Cup - Mexico 1970 Mascot - Juanito
FIFA World Cup - Mexico 1970 Mascot - Juanito

Israel represented Asia at the World Cup. They were placed in a difficult group with Italy, Bulgaria, and Sweden and as expected they finished last.

Israel had poor relationships with other member countries of AFC, and by the time next World Cup commenced, they were expelled from the Asian federation.


1974 World Cup, West Germany

1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany Final in Munich: Germany 2 - 1 Netherlands - Scene of the match: Gerd Mueller (middle) in a tackle with two Dutch players| left: van Hanegem -
1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany Final in Munich: Germany 2 - 1 Netherlands -Gerd Mueller (middle) in a tackle with two Dutch players

South Korea lost their inter-confederation playoff match against Australia, and World Cup continued without an Asian team.

1978 World Cup, Argentina

Juan Perón saluting the crowd, the inspiration of the Argentina 1978 logo
Juan PerΓ³n saluting the crowd, the inspiration of the Argentina 1978 logo

A total of 21 teams were up for the one allocated qualification spot. Iran won the final group and made its first appearance at the FIFA World Cup. They suffered defeats against Netherlands and Peru but managed to surprise Scotland with a 1-1 draw and finished 14 out of 16 teams.


1982 World Cup Spain

Italy v Brazil - 1982 FIFA World Cup
Italy v Brazil - 1982 FIFA World Cup

China lost to New Zealand in a playoff, leading Kuwait to be the only Asian team in the World Cup. They only got one point but were involved in one of the weirdest occurrences in World Cup history. France scored against them to make it 4-1, but then the Kuwaitis walked off the field because somebody in the crowd blew a whistle and they thought it was the referee. A sheikh protested, and the referees decided the goal didn’t count.


1986 World Cup, Mexico

Asia was awarded two places out of 24 in the final tournament. Lebanon and Oman took their names back before the qualification round began.

Iraq and South Korea won the two available qualification spots for the 1986 World Cup. Iraq lost all three games with defeats coming against Paraguay, Belgium, and Mexico. South Korea was playing in their first World Cup since 1954, but they had a similar fate. Both teams finished last in their group as Asia dismal showing in World Cup continued.


1990 World Cup, Italy

It was the same old story as 1986 World Cup with both South Korea and the United Arab Emirates ended the campaign with zero points. They gave up without a significant fight and Asia's horrible, and pathetic performance at the FIFA World Cup continued.

1994 World Cup, USA

Postage stamps honoring football
Postage Stamp
honoring
1994 Football World Cup

Unexpectedly, Asian teams had a respectable showing at the World Cup, the first time in the continent's history. South Korea and first-time participant Saudi Arabia represented Asia at the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

South Korea played well against Spain and earned a draw after going down in the match. They lost the decisive game against the world champions Germany by 3-2 and finished 20th in the rankings.

Saudi Arabia became the first Asian team since North Korea to make it past the group stage when they scored one of the most memorable World Cup goals of all time to beat Belgium. Their fairytale campaign ended with a 3-1 defeat against Sweden.


1998 World Cup, France

Soccer World Cup of 1998 in France, commemorative stamp...
Soccer World Cup of 1998 in France, commemorative stamp.

Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea all finished last in their group. Iran was the only team from Asia to win a match. Iran-United States match, as expected, attracted a lot of attention owing to each country's political allegiance after the Iranian Revolution. But sportsmanship and game spirit won that day as both sides bestowed one another with presents and flowers.

Iran ended US hopes of advancing to the next round by defeating them by 2-1. Germany defeated Iran in their final and third game of the group stage to knock them out of the competition.

Edited by Kishan Prasad

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