Asia stars set to shine after World Cup
Few Asian players caught the eye at the World Cup, but the great thing about football is that it never stops. For those who failed to shine in Brazil, in the coming months in the big leagues of England, Germany, Spain and Italy there will be dozens of opportunities for redemption and glory.
Just ask Ki Sung-yeung. The South Korean scored the first goal of the Premier League season on Saturday for Swansea City, and doing so at Old Trafford made it all the sweeter. The playmaker was loaned by the Welsh club to Sunderland last season and he played his part in helping the Black Cats survive before his form faded and injuries ended his campaign. The World Cup was better for Ki than most of his South Korean colleagues but ended on a low. The past few weeks have seen him linked with moves elsewhere, with Aston Villa a regular interested party, but there is a growing feeling that as his second season in England was better than his first, the third should be better yet. If so, it could be impressive indeed.
Shinji Kagawa had a ringside view of Ki's strike but could do nothing to stop it -- he was on the bench. Three league titles in the past four years sounds great, but given what happened, or didn't happen, last season at Manchester United and then in Brazil with Japan, the 24-year-old needs a change. Whether that comes in terms of status at Old Trafford or a move elsewhere remains to be seen.
Compatriot Maya Yoshida has now firmly settled at Southampton, though may be a little disconcerted at all the departures from the south coast. Injuries cost him the first half of last season but he played regularly later on. The World Cup was not one he will remember fondly but he should be happy to see Ronald Koeman in charge -- the centre-back had a happy time in Holland and has said he is a fan of Dutch coaches.
Yun Suk-young will be hoping to play his part at left-back with newly promoted QPR but it is far from a given. Injuries gave him some playing time in the latter stages of last season and while he was solid, he is unlikely to be the first choice of Harry Redknapp.
While South Korea were perhaps the most disappointing team of the Asian quartet in Brazil, Son Heung-min was perhaps the most impressive player and did his burgeoning reputation no harm at all. His agent claimed that Liverpool were hot on his jet-fueled heels this summer but the decision was made to stay at Bayer Leverkusen. It could be that this is a special season for the attacker. He has shown his talent in the Bundesliga, at the World Cup and now it is time for the Champions League.
There are plenty of other Asian stars in action in Germany. Korea's centre-back Hong Jeong-ho was poor in Brazil but can now focus on Augsburg, although there will be more attention on Mainz and its trio of stars. Korean captain Koo Ja-cheol will be hoping to improve on the last injury-hit season, while Park Joo-ho wants more of the same after settling in well at right-back. Shinji Okazaki was the standout, however -- the Japanese attacker scored 15 goals in 2013-14 to help the club qualify for the Europa League. Much was expected of the former Stuttgart and Shimizu striker in Brazil, yet little, apart from a fine diving header against Colombia, was delivered. It will matter less if Okazaki can demonstrate that last season was no fluke.
Elsewhere, not much is expected of Ji Dong-won at Borussia Dortmund. The former Sunderland man surprised many in England and South Korea with his move to the Westfalenstadion but has looked good in preseason. Just getting some playing time this season would be more than acceptable. Ji enjoys the Bundesliga but would enjoy it a lot more if he starts starring with Dortmund. Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak would agree. He impressed in the recent cup win over Bayern Munich but would swap that for some regular Bundesliga minutes.
Most Asian attention on the peninsula will be on Keisuke Honda. Swapping Moscow for AC Milan in December hasn't yet gone as well as hoped. It wasn't the easiest of introductions to the big leagues for the blond bombshell, who sometimes played out of position in a team going through a tough time. If he wasn't in the best of form by the time he arrived in the fashion capital, he certainly wasn't by the time the season ended and that continued into the World Cup. Preseason has been patchy and provided little clue as to what comes next.
There is less at stake in that regard for Yuto Nagatomo in the blue half of Milan. The left-back has become an integral part of Inter's team since heading west from FC Tokyo.
It is a regular conversation topic in certain circles in the east as to why no Asian player has really ever lit up La Liga. There are various theories why, but that would make an entire article or more.
The only player who has consistently appeared in recent years is Javad Nekounam. The Iranian captain left Osasuna after six seasons to return to the Middle East in 2012 but never really wanted to leave Spain and is now back at the club. Asia will have to wait a little longer to have a player shine in the league that many consider to be the best.