As the big event swings into view, ESPNFC looks at how some of Asia’s stars and likely World Cup starters performed for their clubs in some of Europe’s biggest leagues in the season just finished.
Shinji Okazaki (FC Mainz and Japan) 10/10
Exceeded expectations and then some. What a season for the quiet man of the Japanese attack. Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda hog the headlines but, this time at least, it is Okazaki who has done it, week in, week out. His 14th goal of the season for FC Mainz broke Kagawa’s record of goals scored in the Bundesliga by a Japanese player. Braces have been his specialty with five in total -- including one at Borussia Dortmund -- and a repeat or two this June and Japan could really be going places.
Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace and Australia) 9/10
An injury in the final game of a very successful season for Palace in South-East London deprived the all-action midfielder of membership of a select club: that of the outfield player who plays every single minute of the campaign. Fortunately, his groin strain is not too serious as the Socceroos will need some of the steel and industry that the Palace captain demonstrated for the Eagles. Jedinak made more tackles and interceptions than any other player in the English Premier League this season and won plaudits aplenty.
Yuto Nagatomo (Inter and Japan) 8/10
A fine season from the left-back -- his best yet in Italy -- with five goals and more assists. His crossing has improved, though the former FC Tokyo star has yet to win over the whole of Inter’s support for some reason. Almost ever present, the consistency of his performances almost matches that of his appearances; however, when he has a poor game, it really is bad one. All in all though, this season has been excellent preparation for Brazil and he should be one to catch the eye.
Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham and Iran) 7/10
A terrible season for the Cottagers that ended in relegation, but the Iranian winger was one of the few who emerged with his reputation enhanced -- indeed, if he had he played more, Fulham may even had stayed up. And he will be one of few who is expected to be on the shopping list of clubs in top tiers around Europe this summer. A good World Cup will help in that regard, especially if he can produce anything like the scorchers he came up with against Everton and Hull late in Fulham’s fight to stay up.
Ki Sung-Yueng (Sunderland and South Korea) 7/10
A very interesting season for the cultured midfielder who spent the vast majority out on loan at Sunderland. In the early and middle parts of the campaign, Ki made a clear difference to the seemingly-doomed Black Cats and his performances against Fulham and Everton stick in the memory. Comfortable in possession despite the pressure put on him, his form faded as spring neared, as did the team’s, and injury prevented a part in the late season miracle.
Tommy Oar (FC Utrecht and Australia) 7/10
The young winger was looking for consistency as his third season in the Netherlands got underway, but he did what he set out to do: starting 30 out of 34 games in the top tier as Utrecht finished in a solid 10th place. The one downside to his season was a lack of goals -- just one is not good enough. At the age of 22, the foundation has been laid and Oar, who was in the preliminary squad in 2010 but didn’t make the cut. He has shown his new-found maturity on a regular basis over the last season or so.
Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen and South Korea) 6.5/10
The headlines didn’t contain the word ‘Sonsation’ quite as much as the club would have liked when splashing out around 10 million euros last summer, but the 21-year-old has had quite a few magical moments this season. A hat trick against former club Hamburg was a standout and then came his customary goal against Borussia Dortmund in a 1-0 away win. A final day strike confirmed Leverkusen’s repeat appearance in the UEFA Champions League, so he ended the season on a high.
Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United and Japan) 5.5/10
The Japan midfielder did what he could after being dealt a bad hand at Old Trafford too often. Strangely enough, in a dismal season for United, Kagawa’s reputation could have even been enhanced as the more David Moyes didn’t select the playmaker, the worse his side looked. Too often either absent or played out of his preferred position, it was hard for Kagawa to get any sort of rhythm going. He did, however, show sparks of ingenuity in the Champions League and that bodes well for Brazil.
Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/AC Milan and Japan) 5/10
As the four-year mark approached, Honda could not wait to get out of Moscow for his beloved Milan. But the Italians have had well-documented problems of their own this season. Being played out of position at times did not help the midfielder and it is hard to escape the conclusion that he joined the right club at the wrong time, though his solitary Serie A strike (against Genoa) was sublime. It hasn’t gone especially well in Italy so far but Japan fans will be hoping he is saving his best for Brazil.
Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig and Iran) 5/10
Bottom spot in the Bundesliga is perhaps not the ideal preparation for the World Cup, but perhaps it has helped the German-born shotstopper see plenty of action these past few months. Iranian fans are worried about a number of mistakes that crept in to his game as the season progressed but the youngster was left exposed by his defence on a number of occasions. That Bundesliga experience may come in handy as Iran take on the likes of Argentina this summer.
Atsuto Uchida (Schalke and Japan) 5/10
The defender started the season slowly but was soon looking like his usual solid self at right-back before injuries stepped in. Uchida has not played a league game since February and after having undergone surgery, fans will be hoping he is back to his best when it all kicks off next month.
Hong Jeong-ho (FC Augsburg and South Korea) 5/10
He has had a reasonable first season in Europe, having arrived in the Bundesliga last summer after recovering from a broken leg. However, this season, the youngster has not done anything special in Germany except merely hint that he is more than capable of settling into life in Europe.
Kim Bo-Kyung (Cardiff and South Korea) 5/10
There were some spine-tingling moments -- the appearance in that famous August win over Manchester City and a last-minute goal versus Manchester United -- but there weren’t enough. Kim always looked tidy, but just was not able to make a consistent impact in his first season in the Premier League and now faces life in the Championship as the Bluebirds finished at the foot of the table.
Reza Ghoochannejhad (Standard Liege/Charlton Athletic and Iran) 5/10
It was a season of two halves for the Iranian striker: The first was spent kicking his heels on a Belgian bench; the second as a part of Charlton’s fight to avoid relegation to the third tier. South-East London may have been a bit of a shock to the system and his goalscoring exploits did not match those for the Iranian national team, but he got what he came for -- minutes on the pitch – and a vital winner at Leeds helped the Addicks pull away from the drop zone.
Koo Ja-Cheol (FC Mainz and South Korea) 4/10
South Korea’s 2012 Olympic captain has struggled to find fluency and form this season as Mainz pushed their way up the table. Niggly injuries played a part but, while the talent is there, the performances have not always matched up. A man with the spotlight on him in his homeland, he often produces when the pressure is on and it doesn’t come much bigger than the World Cup.
Maya Yoshida (Southampton and Japan) 4/10
Having started the season tired after a crazy summer, the defender may have got more rest than he wanted before finally breaking back into the team late in 2013. However, just as he was starting to get into his stride, injury struck and it ended up being a bit of a nothing season for the centre-back who will at least not be tired when he arrives in Brazil.
Ji Dong-won (Sunderland/Augsburg and South Korea) 3/10
It has been quite a season for the youngster, as Sunderland were fined for fielding him before they had been given international clearance. Ironically, he had something of a nightmare start with the club and public criticism from then-boss Paolo di Canio didn’t help, so fans in England were surprised to see Borussia Dortmund come in for the versatile attacker. Loaned out to Augsburg, he scored a fine goal against Dortmund in his first game though he struggled to match that start over the remainder of the season.
Makoto Hasebe (Nurnberg and Japan) 3/10
The Samurai Blue captain has played just one league game in 2014, and that came in an end of season encounter when an already relegated Nurnberg ended their top tier stay with a 4-1 defeat. For the midfielder, it wasn’t about the result, it was about getting 90 minutes under his belt after a lengthy injury lay-off. The season itself was forgettable for both club and player, but for the latter, at least it is not yet over.
Park Chu-young (Arsenal and South Korea) 1/10
Having failed to get much playing time -- just 10 minutes of League Cup action in fact -- for Arsenal before joining Championship side Watford on loan in January, Park’s career in England is something of a mystery. Just one substitute appearance for the Hornets, with injury forcing an early return to Korea, has not cleared it up much so he’s not exactly match sharp with the World Cup quickly approaching.