ASIA THE NEXT FRON­TIER

Con­ti­nent’s teams to beat Africa to World Cup win, says James

New Straits Times - - Sport -

CHANG­SHA

ASIA has over­taken Africa and now looks the more likely con­ti­nent to pro­duce a World Cup-win­ning team, ac­cord­ing to the former Eng­land goal­keeper David James.

Speak­ing at the World Foot­ball Fo­rum in Chang­sha, James said Asia’s fi­nan­cial clout and pas­sion would pro­pel it to the fore­front of the game in the com­ing decades.

“I gen­uinely think that an Asian coun­try has got a bet­ter chance of win­ning the World Cup than an African one,” the former Liver­pool goal­keeper said.

“When I was grow­ing up in the Nineties, it was all about how Africa was go­ing to be the next con­ti­nent to win the World Cup. I can’t see it.”

James was re­fer­ring to Brazil­ian leg­end Pele’s fa­mous pre­dic­tion that an African team would win the World Cup be­fore 2000, which turned out to be wide of the mark.

No African team has made it past the quar­ter-fi­nals, and although Asian sides flopped at the last World Cup in 2014, with none reach­ing the knock-out rounds, South Korea reached the semis on home soil in 2002.

Cur­rently, Asia’s top-ranked team are Iran at 28, while South Korea, Ja­pan and Australia are the oth­ers in­side the world’s top 50.

But James, whose CV in­cludes play­ing for the In­dian Su­per League’s Ker­ala Blasters, said China and even In­dia — ranked 81st and 100th re­spec­tively — could emerge as World Cup con­tenders.

“I think there’s such fer­tile soil (in Asia). Maybe the fi­nan­cial as­pects of China pro­vide that,” said James, 46, who made 53 Eng­land ap­pear­ances.

“But I think with the en­thu­si­asm for foot­ball in In­dia, plus there is ob­vi­ously a fi­nan­cial po­ten­tial to back them, I think the op­por­tu­nity is mas­sive, mas­sive.

“There’s some­thing like twoand-a-half bil­lion peo­ple if you take the two coun­tries, it’s a third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.”

The World Cup will re­turn to the Asian con­fed­er­a­tion at Qatar 2022, and China is ac­tively con­sid­er­ing a bid to host the tour­na­ment, prob­a­bly in the 2030s.

China has spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars on for­eign play­ers and coaches af­ter an of­fi­cial de­cree that the coun­try hopes to host and win the World Cup.

But James said he was also op­ti­mistic for In­dia, re­call­ing crowds of 50,000 turn­ing up to watch Ker­ala Blasters.

In­dia will also be in the lime­light later this year when it hosts the Un­der-17 World Cup, its big­gest foot­ball tour­na­ment to date.

“There’s a bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture in China at the mo­ment. In­dia’s got a bit of a way to catch up with that but it’s not some­thing that will take 30 years to achieve,” James said.

“The tech­nol­ogy within foot­ball, the un­der­stand­ing of build­ing pitches and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties, that’s one thing. To com­pete you need th­ese things, but to im­prove you need bet­ter coach­ing.

“And it’s whether or not the in­vest­ment is made into the coach­ing side of things ei­ther in China or in In­dia.”

James said there was “no rea­son” why Asia’s na­tional teams wouldn’t be at the same level as their Euro­pean ri­vals 30 years from now.

“With the size of the coun­tries... some­where you can find the per­fect ar­eas for a su­per camp or what­ever. I’m en­thu­si­as­tic for Asia,” he said.

But he warned: “You can’t have the best na­tional team and the best do­mes­tic league... You can’t have both.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult beast — it’s al­most like the dog with a bone look­ing at his re­flec­tion in the pond,” he said, quot­ing one of Ae­sop’s fa­bles.

“What do you go for?” AFP

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