It’s been a good Olympics for London, football and especially Asian football. With the end in sight, the Games will go down as a big success. From the opening ceremony to some stupendous displays of athleticism and no major problems organizationally, it has been exciting from start to finish.
In football, too, there is much to be happy about, even for those who believe that the beautiful game should not be featured under the five rings. This is a view I have a great deal of sympathy with.
For football players, the ultimate competition is the World Cup. For most, even the continental championship takes precedence over a medal. To win gold, silver or bronze is certainly memorable, but there are bigger prizes at stake for the big stars.
Personal feelings aside, the relationship between football and the Olympics is showing no signs of cracking and when games are averaging close to 50,000 spectators, you can see why.
This time has been a success partly because it is the first time in living memory that it has received wide coverage in the British media. This is important not because the British media is anything special, but because when it comes to the international football media, the English press sets much of the agenda, especially outside Europe. This is not necessarily a good thing but, right or wrong, it is the way it is.
With the profile of the Olympics getting a healthy boost in the football world, it has been a perfect time for Asia to occupy center stage. What better to way to announce two years out from the last World Cup and two years away from the next one that the future is Asia?
As well as Japan’s success in the women’s tournament with the Nadeshiko narrowly losing to the United States in the final on Thursday evening, there were two teams from the continent in the men’s semifinals.
It has been a great couple of weeks for Asian football. Japan and South Korea both reached the semifinals of the Games. What is even better is that they both did so deservedly. These were no lucky runs into the last four; the two neighbors and rivals did it all on merit.
Asian football is improving and becoming more consistent. Two teams in the last 16 of the World Cup in 2002 and 2010 and now two teams in the semifinals of the Olympics. That they are the same two teams does not yet matter. It just matters that it can be done.
The success of Korea and Japan has made the world sit up and take notice. The reputation of Asian football has never been higher. Korea’s elimination of Great Britain was significant. It may have come in a penalty shootout, but it was the right result after a fine performance from the Taeguk Warriors. Japan got just as far, outplaying and beating Spain in the opening match to make the watching world sit up and take notice of a talented and technically able team.
Asia has won respect for the way in which it no longer respects the big boys of world football too much. There is no reason for Asian teams to fall at the feet of European and South American giants. There is enough talent in the continent to compete with the best.
Korea lost to Brazil 3-0 but was denied two penalties, one blatant and one fairly clear. Who knows what would have happened had the referee given them? Japan reached the last four without conceding a goal before falling to a talented Mexican side. These were no lucky runs to the semifinals; just good teams doing what good teams do.
Before the Olympics, there were all kinds of warnings from the media and the people in England that the Games were going to be a nightmare. That everything was going to go wrong, the subway would seize up, it would rain all the time, the nation would go into meltdown.
That hasn’t happened. London, England and even Great Britain is feeling pretty good about itself, and Asian football should be, too.