SOCCER

Asian fringe ready for World Cup expansion: Japan FA boss

Japan Football Association (JFA) President Kozo Tashima poses with a soccer ball at his office in Tokyo on Thursday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO —

FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams will be a catalyst to soccer’s growth in countries hovering on the fringe of the showpiece tournament, according to Japan Football Association (JFA) president Kozo Tashima.

Tashima is a member of the FIFA Council, which voted on Tuesday to add 16 more teams to its current 32 from the 2026 edition of the tournament.

Critics fear the expansion will lower the overall standard of the tournament but Tashima cited the example of Japan, which has taken part in the last five World Cups, and said it would be provide an impetus for soccer’s growth globally.

“Many teams in Asia are also close to being fully prepared to participate,” Tashima told Reuters on Thursday.

“Japan was the same when we first participated in 1998. We had a taste of what soccer was at a world level and was able to consistently participate in all five World Cups that followed. This contributed greatly to the development of Japanese soccer.

“I believe countries in Asia, Oceania, Europe, for example Iceland, and other small countries deserve the same chance.”

Kashima pointed to Iceland’s Euro 2016 victory over England to further his point.

“In the past, tournaments were more about Europe versus South America, but now, many other national teams have become stronger,” he said.

“We are now in a generation where even Iceland beat England. Our decision was based on the fact that team number expansion would be, without a doubt, a progress for soccer, globally.”

The other main talking point in Asian soccer is the money being splashed out by Chinese Super League clubs to lure top players from abroad.

Tashima thought it might ultimately help strengthen Japanese soccer.

“I think it is totally normal that players go to markets that deem them highly valuable,” he said.

“So when players go to China, the level of Chinese soccer goes up. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. All we have to do is develop teams that can counter their strength, and in that sense, this becomes a good stimulation for us.”

He advised China to follow Japan’s model.

“Japan did the same thing in the 90s when J.League was first formed. But the important thing was, we made sure we recognised that these players were good and made sure they truly contributed to Japanese soccer,” he added. “It is important that China does the same.” 

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2017.

  • 4

    TigersTokyoDome

    Rubbish. Iceland beat England because they were a decent team who qualified for the Euros the right way. No point quoting Iceland when you are asking for a bye into the finals. Iceland got into the Euros on merit which is why they were good enough to beat England.

    World Cup qualifying used to be a big deal (and should be) but it is yet another example of the watering-down of football tradition by FIFA. For example, the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Cup Winners Cup - all ruined by big money televised Champions League and Premier League. Now they are going to make World Cup qualifying more or less redundant.

  • 1

    goldorak

    “In the past, tournaments were more about Europe versus South America, but now, many other national teams have become stronger,” he said.

    That's probably one of the clichés I disagree with the most. Honestly don't think that Japan, Oz, the us and now China, Qatar or any other 'newish' football nation are better than say Nigeria/Cameroon in the early 90s, Mexico in the 70s and 80s etc. Not even sure Japan or SK are better in 2017 than they were in the late 1990s or early 2000s?

    We all know that countries outside Europe and SA do play some quality football and have been doing so for a very long time. This is imo not the issue. The problem many have is with the 48 nations format itself. Very, very few big football nations have made it to all WC (eng and fr didn't qualify to US94, the Netherlands to J/SK 2002 etc) and we were all fine with it. That's what was unique about football, the fact making it to the final tourney was an achievement of its own. Will no longer be the case.

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    China is on the line for spending HUGE amounts of money on their soccer plan, which is ultimately to have them win a WC some day. They've promised the people to soon qualify for a WC first, though, but with their performance in the qualifiers they are under fire. Much cheaper just to pay FIFA to let them in, which is effectively what they are doing. If there were any doubt, just look at yesterday's statements about the "economic potential" that opening up and giving Asia more teams presents. Not about the sport, it's about the money.

  • 0

    ThePBot

    A European or a South American team will win anyway.

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