Plenty of unexpected results from the ongoing Fifa World Cup 2022 are indicative of the narrowing gap between footballing giants and underdogs. It will not be an exaggeration to say that contests in every group match, unlike the past, have made it truly difficult to predict the probable winner of the competition. Thus far, many underdog teams have beaten more traditionally formidable teams in contradiction to FIFA rankings. Before the commencement of the competition, no one expected Japan to top Group E ahead of Spain and Germany. Similarly, Morocco has topped Group F ahead of Croatia and Belgium. Entry of Senegal and South Korea to the Last-16 stage has also astonished many football experts. It appears that the dominance of Latin American and European nations over international football is set to face serious challenge from Asian and African countries. Thus, Saudi Arabia’s victory over Lionel Messi’s Argentina or Japan’s victory over Spain and Germany, South Korea’s victory over Portugal should not be considered as flukes. In reality, a number of Asian and African nations are now matching the skills and power of South American and European footballers.
What is the recipe for such success of African and Asian nations in international Football? The answer is simple, their teams are full of footballers who are regulars in various European clubs. For instance, the architect of South Korea’s winning goal against Portugal was Son Heung-Min, one of the key players of the English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur. His teammate is none other than England captain Harry Kane and together they are a formidable duo. Son is not the only player from a European league, several of his teammates from the South Korean side play in various European clubs. Same is the case with Japan. The much-touted J League might have helped them create a strong foundation, but the ‘Blue Samurais’ have really flourished after participating in large numbers in various European Football Leagues. From the next edition, the number of teams in the World Cup will be increased to 48. Based on the performances, it will be wise to seek many new slots for Asian and African nations as these continents are not adequately represented at the world stage, forcing many talents to go unnoticed due to lack of opportunities.
Now the question is whether the great show by Asian and African nations will help Indian football to progress. Sadly, the two-time Asian Games champion is in no position to be rejuvenated by the success of Asian and African nations in international football, despite having talent and a strong football culture unless it changes its entire domestic format to make it big in international football. Otherwise, crores of football fans in India will have to continue cheering for other nations, instead of their own.