Asian highs at Qatar World Cup
Three teams – Japan, Australia and South Korea – representing the Asian Football Confederation made it to last 16
December 21, 2022 | 11:03 PM
The dust is settling on an exceptional FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and Asia can look back at the tournament with much pride as teams from the continent produced some of the most stunning results in their history. Four years ago at Russia 2018, Asia recorded its highest points tally in a FIFA World Cup and that feat was topped in Qatar as, for the very first time, three teams representing the Asian Football Confederation made it to the knockout stages.Australia, Japan and South Korea were the nations who scripted history with their Round of 16 appearances, but Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who hosted a truly superb FIFA World Cup, all had tournaments which they can look back on with fond memories.The-AFC.com looks back at some of Asia’s best moments from Qatar 2022 as the FIFA World Cup.Green Falcons stun Messi and ArgentinaSaudi Arabia arrived at the FIFA World Cup as one of its lowest-ranked sides and they had the unenviable task of facing one of the favourites, Argentina, in their Group C opener. The South American champions boasted arguably the greatest ever footballer in Lionel Messi, who was determined to crown his illustrious career by winning the biggest prize of them all.There was no surprise as the 35-year-old scored from the spot to give Argentina the lead only 10 minutes in and set them on course to stretch their unbeaten run to 37 games. But, in front of tens of thousands of their own fans at Lusail Stadium, the Green Falcons had other plans. Herve Renard’s players brilliantly executed a high defensive line, stifling Argentine attackers, while goalkeeper Mohammed al-Owais was at the top of his game to avoid further damage before the interval.Then, the Green Falcons turned the screw. Al Hilal SFC striker Saleh al-Shehri stunned Argentina by levelling the score three minutes into the second half. A fabulous winner came six minutes later. Salem al-Dawsari wiggled past three Argentine defenders at the edge of the box before firing into the top corner to give Saudi Arabia their fourth and by far their biggest win in FIFA World Cup history – an achievement made all the greater after the Albiceleste went on to be crowned champions of the world.Germany rattled by East Asian opposition againAfter getting knocked out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup following a 2-0 defeat at the hands of South Korea, Germany would have been wary as they faced another East Asian side in the form of Japan in the Group E opener. But despite Ilkay Gundogan breaking the deadlock from the penalty spot in the 33rd minute, they had no answer to a spirited fightback from the Samurai Blue in the second half.It was two of Hajime Moriyasu’s inspired substitutes, both plying their trade in Bundesliga, that downed Germany in Al Rayyan. SC Freiburg’s Ritsu Doan was the first to inflict damage on the Germans as he turned in the rebound from a Manuel Neuer save, moments after missing an identical chance, to make it 1-1 in the 75th minute. Former Arsenal star Takuma Asano then stole the headlines, bringing down a lofted ball played forward by Ko Itakura before battling Nico Schlotterbeck as he made his way into the box to fire past Neuer. The three points gave Japan the perfect start in what many considered a near-impossible group for the Samurai Blue, ahead of their games against Costa Rica and Spain.Team Melli’s late flourish has Wales in despairIran are no strangers to difficult FIFA World Cup groups. After getting the likes of Argentina, Spain and Portugal as group stage opponents in the two previous editions, Carlos Queiroz’s Team Melli were drawn with England, the United States and Wales for Qatar 2022. And after a 6-2 loss to England in their opener, they needed a response against the Welsh.But for the lion’s share of the match at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, it looked as if it was not to be for the Iranians despite their best efforts. Ali Gholizadeh and Sardar Azmoun had seen their shots rattle the woodwork as the clock ticked down. However, the turning point came four minutes from time as Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was sent off for a foul on Mehdi Taremi outside the area.Queiroz’s men still had plenty of work to do. Rouzbeh Cheshmi provided the moment of magic in the eighth minute of second-half stoppage time with a thunderous strike from distance that flew into the far corner. There was still time for Sepahan right-back Ramin Rezaeian to make it 2-0 on a counter as Iran recorded a famous FIFA World Cup victory over Gareth Bale’s Wales to keep their qualification hopes intact going into their final match against the United States.Duke header keeps Socceroos’ dreams aliveAfter a 4-1 defeat to reigning champions France in their opening game, Australia needed a win against Tunisia to keep them alive in the competition. The setting was Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakra where the majority of the 41,000 plus crowd were in Tunisian colours, but the Socceroos showed grit to earn their first FIFA World Cup win in 12 years.With France and Denmark clear favourites to progress from Group D, Australia and Tunisia were both looking for a win that would maintain their chances of knockout round qualification on the final matchday. Adelaide United’s Craig Goodwin found Mitchell Duke, via a deflected cross, and the striker, who plays for Fagiano Okayama in the Japanese second division, expertly flicked his header over Tunisian goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen. That goal in the 23rd minute proved to be decisive as Australia weathered the Tunisian storm and held on for the three points to move up to second in the standings.Australia sink Denmark to book last 16 berthIn five previous FIFA World Cup appearances, Australia had made it out of the group stage only once. Standing between them and a first knockout round ticket in 16 years was a formidable opponent in Denmark – a task that proved all the more difficult by Tunisia’s surprising win over France in the simultaneous fixture which meant Graham Arnold’s men had to beat the Danes to progress. The Socceroos had a quiet start at Al Janoub Stadium, but managed to keep the UEFA Euro 2020 semi-finalists at bay before the second half saw a revitalised Australia take to the field. Tunisia had already scored against France and Arnold’s men responded almost immediately against Christian Eriksen and company to produce another upset at Qatar 2022.On the hour mark, Riley McGree initiated a counter, rolling the ball into Mathew Leckie’s path from the halfway line. The forward then did the rest as he dribbled past Joakim Mæhle and produced a finish past Kasper Schmeichel to spark wild celebrations in the Australian dugout and, after holding on to see the win out, book a Round of 16 clash against Argentina.Another world champion downed by JapanAfter an impressive win against Germany in their opener, Japan’s World Cup hopes had taken a major hit due to a narrow defeat to Costa Rica. Up against group leaders and 2010 champions Spain, Japan pulled off another fightback to not only progress as winners of Group E, but also knock out four-time champions Germany.Alvaro Morata put Luis Enrique’s side but, as was the case against the Germans, Moriyasu’s substitutions were spot on. Doan was once again the game changer off the bench, scoring in the 48th minute with a shot from distance that was too hot to handle for goalkeeper Unai Simon.Doan was behind the winning goal too as his low cross was cut back by Kaoru Mitoma for Ao Tanaka to bundle in and pull off another famous win for the Samurai Blue that also confirmed a meeting with 2018 finalists Croatia in their third Round of 16 appearance in the last four FIFA World Cups.Taeguk Warriors leave it late against PortugalSouth Korea round were over after a narrow 3-2 defeat to Ghana in their previous outing. But Son Heung-min and his teammates were not ones to back down as they produced a last-gasp win over Portugal to dramatically seal a place in the last 16.The Taeguk Warriors got off to a worst start as they fell behind to a Ricardo Horta goal inside five minutes, but they fought back to restore parity as a Lee Kang-in corner fell to Kim Young-gwon, off the back of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the defender pulled the trigger to level. Then, just when it looked as if the Koreans were headed for the exit doors, Son stepped up in the dying embers of the game.The Tottenham Hotspur man set off on a run from deep inside his own half before feeding Hwang Hee-chan with an inch-perfect through ball and the Wolverhampton Wanderers forward finished past Diogo Costa to spark joyous celebrations on the pitch and in the stands. But they still had to wait for seven agonising minutes after the final whistle to ensure their progress as Uruguay ultimately went out on goal difference despite a 2-0 win over Ghana.