Socceroo Schwarzer hails rise of Asia

Australia have found themselves pushed hard by their rivals in AFC World Cup qualifying, with Chelsea's new goalkeeper expecting tough tests on the club's tour of Asia

Socceroo Mark Schwarzer believes there has been a major improvement in the standard of Asian football in recent years, as he prepares for Chelsea's pre-season tour.

Schwarzer has witnessed first-hand the progress made across the Asian Football Confederation, with Australia pushed hard before narrowly securing automatic qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

At club level, Japanese and Korean teams have continued to dominate the AFC Champions League, with cash-rich Chinese clubs closing the gap fast, leaving A-League outfits struggling to catch up.

"The standard has improved and it's only natural when you've got some teams raising the bar, they have to follow or they will fall way behind the running," Schwarzer told Chelsea's website ahead of the club's friendlies in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"In the past four years there has been a huge improvement."

"On the same token I like to think it has improved Australia. You have to improve as a national team, it's exactly the same as in a club, you have to move forward or you will be caught up or overtaken.

"We're continuously trying to improve and we're there or thereabouts. We made it to our third consecutive World Cup which we're very happy with and looking forward to next year."

Chelsea's first game of their Asian tour is against the Singha All Stars in Bangkok, followed by a Malaysia XI in Kuala Lumpur and an Indonesian All Stars team in Jakarta.

Schwarzer predicts Chelsea's opponents to go all out in what will be one of the most high-profile games of their careers up against one of the Premier League's heavyweight clubs.

"Asia is such a big continent and they are absolutely mad about the Premier League," he said.

"For many of those players, coming up against Chelsea will be a dream come true and they'll be doing everything they possibly can to try and make a mark.

"It will be a test for us but also a great opportunity for a lot of the local guys to get a chance against Chelsea."

As for Schwarzer himself, the excitement of his high-profile switch to Jose Mourinho's team is yet to subside, and the 40-year-old is relishing some tough weeks of fitness and conditioning work ahead.

"I'm looking forward to playing football again and getting stuck into pre-season at such a fantastic club. It's extremely exciting for me," he said.

"Hard work is what you do as a footballer. You hit the ground running, it's all about hard work and you don't get something for nothing. That's why I'm still playing at this tender young age of mine. I enjoy pushing myself."

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