FIFA World Cup

World Cup 2022: The Group of Asia’s Hope

Kokoy Severino
World Cup 2022: The Group of Asia’s Hope

ASIAN STAR. Son Heung-Min wears a protective mask during South Korea’s match in the World Cup.

Matthew Childs/REUTERS

The generation led by Son Heung-Min – the South Korean star who has been trailblazing for Asia and achieving success less than a handful of Asian players have reached in Europe – may have the best chance of getting past the continent’s statistically dismal history at the World Cup

This is Part 8 of Rappler’s World Cup 2022 series.

Group H – Ghana, Portugal, South Korea, Uruguay 

One of the matches South Korea played in the 2018 World Cup made history. With the team on the brink of first-round elimination in Russia, South Korea faced defending champions Germany in their final group match, needing to win by a margin of two goals in order to stay alive, and Mexico needed to beat Sweden in the other game for the Asian representatives to go through to the next round. 

The match was later hailed as the “Miracle of Kazan,” so you can extrapolate what the result was. However, South Korea still got eliminated because Sweden ended up beating Mexico. Still, this historic victory has helped to catalyze South Korean determination. 

Now on their 10th consecutive World Cup, the Warriors of Taegeuk are led by no less than Son Heung-Min, who has been trailblazing for Asia through the Premiere League with Tottenham for the last eight seasons, winning awards and achieving levels of success only less than a handful of Asian players have reached in Europe. 

The generation Son leads may have the best chance of getting past a statistically dismal history at the World Cup. 

Out of the 34 matches South Korea has contested, they have won only six, drawing nine and losing 19 to compile an embarrassing -36 goal deficit. This includes the seven matches they hosted in 2002 when they reached the semifinals, the one and only time an Asian country has gotten that deep. 

Since then, South Korea has not produced back-to-back World Cup wins. 

Uruguay, meanwhile, is lead by one of this tournament’s numerous star strikers Luis Suarez, who bit himself into World Cup infamy in 2014 when he sank his incisors into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in a critical group stage match, his third such incident for which he was suspended by FIFA. 

Uruguay’s star-studded generation who took the South American powerhouse into the knockout stage for three consecutive World Cups are all upwards of 35 years old. 

Suarez and Edinson Cavani, their two current leading scorers, and defender Martin Caceres of LA Galaxy are all 35 years old. Captain Diego Godin and keeper Fernando Muslera are 36. 

Uruguay managed to finish the South American qualifying campaign with these guys by winning just eight of their 18 games. Whether they still have the teeth to get it done will be acutely tested by a South Korean squad on a roll. 

Nine-time African Cup of Nations finalists Ghana entered this tournament as the bottom seed. But don’t let Ghana’s No. 61 ranking fool you. The Black Stars’ roster is stacked with players based in the big leagues. All but four are under contract in Europe, with a couple of them of heroic pedigree.

This will be striker Jordan Ayew’s second time around in the World Cup. The son of the legendary Abedi Pele who captained the Ghanaian national team to Cup of Nations glory, Ayew has continued his father’s legacy of success in Europe, winning the Ligue 1 title once and the Coupe de la Ligue three times with Marseille. 

Now in his ninth season in the English Premiere League, Ayew is the current Ghanaian second-leading scorer among active players, tied with his father’s total at 19 goals. 

The top goal-scorer on the current national team is Jordan’s older brother André, who is also Ghana’s most capped player. 

Now with Al Sadd in the Saudi top flight, André made his mark in Europe, with six seasons at Marseille, winning two Coupes de la Ligue with his brother. 

Ghana have the potential to break out of the group stage; they’ve done it twice before. With the Ayew brothers now in their early 30s, and their legendary father looking on, this may be the Black Stars’ best chance to do it again.

When I first watched Cristiano Ronaldo play, I couldn’t help but feel a little disgusted. It was 2006, and he was being heralded as the next great megastar and expectations were indeed high for the 21-year-old’s first World Cup. 

My first impression was that of a ball-hogging prima donna. Whenever CR got the ball, he held on to it so long, he took the team out of rhythm, leaving Luis Figo, Tiago, Simão, Nuno Valente and company standing around because no one knew what he was going to do with it. 

He complained a lot and carried the demeanor of someone constantly frustrated. That was my first impression of CR. You know what they say about first impressions…. 

The great Portuguese striker has had a stellar career beyond a doubt. There is no need to go into the details of his endless club accomplishments. 

One of the biggest and most recognizable sporting figures of the 21st century, CR regularly garners global media attention to his every match, every championship, every court case, every scandal, every club move, and every shortcoming. 

Would you expect anything else around the highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes magazine, the authority on highest-paid athletes in the world? 

Internationally, however, is where one of the biggest sporting figures of the 21st century has struggled to achieve. 

Like his South American counterpart Lionel Messi, with whom he has famously competed for the mantle of greatest player of his generation, CR didn’t win his continental championship until later in his career in 2016, and World Cup success continues to elude him. 

He and Messi both may end their careers as highlights on the list of great players who never won a World Cup.

Ronaldo has impeccable timing on the field, a key competency that has enabled him to run up a total 701 career goals for Sporting CP, Real Madrid, Juventus, and Manchester United, and 117 for the national team. 

But I have to question his timing off the field. His now infamous interview with Piers Morgan could have waited until after the World Cup. 

He didn’t need to air all of his grievances against his current club Man U to the world like it was Festivus for the Rest of Us with less than two weeks to go before Portugal’s opening match against Ghana. 

He may be personally accustomed to drawing media attention to himself for all the wrong reasons, but there is no telling how this kind of distraction can affect the team. 

But then again, Cristiano Ronaldo has to make it all about him. He hogs the limelight like he hogs the ball, and everyone else will be left standing around wondering what he’s going to do with it. 

Group H standings prediction
  1. Uruguay
  2. South Korea
  3. Portugal 
  4. Ghana

– Rappler.com

Kokoy Severino is a career educator and nationally certified youth soccer coach in the United States who now  lives in his home country of the Philippines. For over 23 years, he implemented the beautiful game as a gang-intervention program in high-poverty urban school districts in the Greater Houston area of Texas. He has also worked with economically-disadvantaged communities in the Philippines, using football to mentor youths out of poverty. He is on the coaching staff of the Football for Peace movement, the Elmer Lacknet Bedia Football Academy, and a core member of Initiatives and Hearts for Indigenous People, a collective of volunteer soccer coaches who work with youths in poverty, particularly among the marginalized ethnic minorities of the Philippines. 

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