The previous year ended with Qatar shocking the world by being awarded the 2022 World Cup and just a few days into 2011 the little nation was once again on center stage as it hosted the Asian Cup.
Although most matches were played in half-empty stadiums, the soccer was of a relatively high standard, with Japan, Australia and South Korea cementing their reputations as Asia’s ideal teams.
Japan eventually lifted the trophy with a 1-0 win in the final over Australia. It was the first of two major successes for the country with the women’s team lifting the World Cup in the summer.
“We are all delighted at the JFA at the success that Japanese soccer has had in 2011,” Kozo Tashima, the vice president of the Japan Football Association, told Associated Press earlier this month. “The year started well in Asia in January, we had a global success in July which thrilled the national after a difficult time.”
That “difficult time” was the period following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left 5,839 dead and 3,647 missing, with the local J-League suspended for six weeks.
In April, South Korea was in the headlines for a large match-fixing scandal that saw over 60 players, past and present, indicted for accepting money to rig the results of K-League and cup games. The scandal caused one former player and one team coach to commit suicide.
Both Japan and South Korea continued to provide players to the huge European leagues at increasingly young ages.Stars such as Shinji Okazaki and Takashi Usami went to the Bundesliga while Korea’s striker Ji Dong-won headed to Sunderland in the English Premier League.
It hasn’t all been one-way traffic. The continent’s increasing wealth means that its clubs can compete with the western giants in the transfer market and a growing number of international stars have headed eastwards.
One of the biggest moves came in September when Asamoah Gyan, the main striker of English Premier League team Sunderland, suddenly joined Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates on loan for a year.
In December, Nicolas Anelka left Chelsea to join Shanghai Shenhua. The Chinese club has reportedly offered the former French international $14 million a year.
The striker follows in the footsteps of Argentina’s Dario Conca who cost Guangzhou Evergrande $10 million in the summer. Both players are among the highest-paid in the world and the moves show that the continent is on the rise according to Zhang Jilong, the acting president of the Asian Football Confederation.
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