While Japan finished East Asia’s soccer season on a high at the weekend, China and South Korea will look back on a year dominated by scandal, missed opportunities and unfulfilled promise.
Japan started the year by lifting the Asian Cup, watched their women’s team win the World Cup in July and ended the season with another thrilling title race in the country’s domestic J-League.
With a number of young stars lured to the big leagues in Europe and the national team progressing to the final round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup with ease, the Japan Football Association (JFA) has reason to be happy, as the association’s vice president Kozo Tashima said.
“We are all delighted at the JFA at the success that Japanese football has had in 2011,” said Tashima, one of a number of Asian figures tipped to be the next president of the Asian Football Confederation.
“The year started well in Asia in January, we had a global success in July which thrilled the nation after a difficult time,” he added in reference to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left 5,839 dead and 3,647 missing, causing the J-League to be suspended for six weeks.
Over the next 12 months Japan will be focused on trying to secure a place at the 2014 World Cup.
“The game is progressing at all levels in the country, but we know that we have to keep moving forward and working hard,” Tashima said.
The J-League season ended on Saturday with Kashiwa Reysol lifting the league trophy for the first time, with Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka close behind.
China has had a year to remember as far as club soccer goes, but another comprehensive failure in the international arena.
In November, China saw their hopes of reaching the 2014 World Cup officially end, marking the third successive failure to reach even the final phase of qualification. When Japan lifted the Asia Cup in January, China exited after the first round.
However, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) declared that it would stick with Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho, who was appointed in August.
“We have set our sights on the future. For example, the systematic training of teenage players,” CFA deputy president Yu Hongchen said. “That’s the reason we recruited a coaching team. Camacho will take part in the construction of China’s teenage development system.”
Some hope has come with the emergence of Guangzhou Evergrande. The team was promoted to the Chinese Super League at the end of last year and the club dominated the season in the top tier to win the title with ease.
Bankrolled by a wealthy real-estate tycoon, the team signed a number of established Chinese international players and added expensive South American stars.
Brazilian striker Cleo was signed for US$4 million, while the club shocked the soccer world by paying Brazil’s Fluminense more than US$10 million for Argentine star Dario Conca and making the midfielder one of the highest-paid players in the world.
Hopes are high for next year.
Guangzhou’s success is causing rival clubs, such as Beijing and Tianjin, to spend money, with stars such as Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka recently linked to a move to China, and fans are hopeful that one of their clubs will finally be able to challenge for the Asian Champions League next year.
South Korea again impressed in the Asian Champions League, but it has been an up and down year for the Asian powerhouse. After sending four teams to the quarter-finals of last year’s tournament, three made it to the last eight this year, only for Jeonbuk Motors to surprisingly lose in the final to Al Sadd of Qatar.