I was checking football results on yahoo!sport the other day, working while checking the internet feed for the Italy-Slovakia match. (Sure, like I kept working, in the end, I just watched the damn match, and saw the last 3 goals being scored).
Slovakian substitute Kamil Kopunek lobs in the winning goal against defending champs Italy to knock them out of the World Cup
Anyway, this is one of the comments I saw:
"You Europeans think you're so great. Wait ten years. The Asians and Americans will dominate this sport, just like they do the Olympics."
Could it happen?
Why not? Firstly because football isn't a part of Asian, or American culture the way it is in Europe or South America. In those regions, football is a way of life! Football is everywhere over there, and kids pick up the game from a young age. Football in those regions is associated with immortal cultural elements in ways which are near impossible to replicate in Asia or the US. Take the Brazilian samba, or the fact that English-Irish nationalism was evident in British football fans in the 80's and 90's. In a country where football is known as "soccer" dominating this sport in such an environment is a tad laughable, at least for the moment.
Brazilian football is as much a part of the samba as samba is a part of the beautiful game.
And then of course is the area of technical ability, which is something that needs lots of time and stringent management to develop properly. In this area, the Asians are most likely to lose out. The Asian leagues are beset by corruption, mismanagement, and a lack of professionalism by the players. In Malaysia, for example, the local football governing body is managed by politicians and royals who know absolutely nothing about managing a football squad. Youth training schemes also need to be beefed up to spawn success, as the example of Germany has shown. Its current crop of young heroes (I still can't believe the 4-0 rout of Argentina), came about as a result of reforms undertaken after the team's early exit from Euro 2000.
Lukas Podolski is just one of the many young players currently taking the World Cup by storm, proof that the German youth system is paying off handsomely.
The US team, while they had a great run, had forwards who often seemed at sea, and who never seemed to take the game to the opponent from the starting whistle. They instead woke up after conceding opening goals, and even then relied overmuch on Landon Donovan. Their strikers, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore were virtually silent.
Landon Donovan celebrates after rescuing the US yet again. No team can rely so much on one man and expect to win a tourney, let alone the World Cup.
Against Argentina, the South Koreans defensive flaws were opened up painfully, as the Argentine forwards latched on to numerous defensive lapses to end up with a 4-1 victory. An observation of the German side throughout the tourney reveals a fresh squad whose strikers are always willing to fall back and mark opposing strikers tightly. The Brazilian's (who were extremely unlucky to lose to Holland) had their defenders coming forward too, like Lucio, Juan and most notably, Maicon.
Maicon in action in Brazil's 3-0 rout of Chile. Asian and American teams need equally versatile players; strikers should not hang around upfront waiting for pinpoint passes.
These achievements are not impossible for Americans or Asians. But they will require a radical shift in mindsets and the focus of football development in both regions. They have made great strides over the past 50-odd years, but to go further and "own this sport" more must be done.