Asia's World Cup milestones

Asian teams have had a long but mixed history at the World Cup and Goal Singapore looks back at five memorable moments that shaped the continent's football

Indonesia the first Asian country at the World Cup

Known as the Dutch East Indies before the Second World War, the Indonesian national football team was the first Asian side to qualify for the Fifa World Cup in France, back in 1938 at the tournament's third staging. The team was coached by Johan Mastenbroek and fielded mostly native Indonesians with a couple of Dutch players.

Indonesia was knocked out after one match losing 6-0 to eventual finalists Hungary, back when the World Cup still employed a straight knock-out format. Italy won the competition, retaining their title from four years earlier, and Asia will wait 16 years before another representative from the continent made an appearance.

First Asian to score at the World Cup

Pak Seung-zin holds the honour of being the first Asian to score in the prestigious tournament finding the net at the 1966 edition in England. Pak was part of the legendary North Korea team that shook the football world (see next entry) overcoming Italy and almost running an Eusebio-led Portugal out as well.

In the second match of the Group Stage, North Korea were trailing 1-0 to Chile, after a penalty in the 26th minute placed the South American team ahead. Pak’s moment came when the North Korean forward shocked everyone by equalising in the 88th minute.

North Korea stun the Azzurri

The 1966 campaign in England proved to be an illustrious one for the North Korean team as they managed to make it through to the quarter-finals, knocking out football giants Italy along the way.

The 1-0 win against the European giants at Ayresome Park was the biggest surprise pulled by the Asian side, and the win allowed them to make it past the group stage alongside the USSR.

North Korea were eventually eliminated in the quarter-finals by Portugal in an exciting display of football filled with goals. The Asian underdogs were beaten 5-3, despite taking a 3-0 lead in the first 30 minutes.

They would have to wait 44 years before reaching another World Cup. For Asia, the final-eight feat would only be matched in 2002, when neighbours South Korea reached the semi-finals on home soil, before eventually finishing fourth.

Saeed Al-Owairan’s super solo

Saudi Arabia qualified for the first time in 1994 to play in the Fifa World Cup held in the USA, and the Green Falcons were set in a do-or-die match against Belgium on June 29 in Washington DC.

In the opening minutes of the game, Saudi forward Saeed Al-Owairan received the ball in his own half and proceeded to single-handedly take on the Belgium team, Maradona-style. Owairan slotted the ball past the Belgian keeper to clinch the victory and a spot on the list of the most memorable goals in World Cup history.

The 1-0 win meant that Saudi Arabia would reach the next round with the Netherlands, leaving Belgium and Morocco behind. The feat also earned Owairan the top individual honours from the AFC.

First World Cup in Asia

The World Cup made its debut in Asia for the first time in 2002, after South Korea and Japan were selected to co-host the 17th  staging of the tournament. But Fifa's decision to award both nations co-hosting duties was not without controversy. Initially, the countries presented their bid separately but decided to unite their bids before the decision was made, and were unanimously chosen over Mexico.

This was the first and only time the World Cup was hosted by two countries and was the last one in which the Golden Goal rule was implemented. The world governing body for football have since made it clear the tournament will never be co-hosted.

As the hosts automatically qualified for a place in the competition, only two other slots for Asian teams were left to scrap out for in qualification, with China and Saudi Arabia making it through. Japan, at the time of being selected as hosts in 1996, had never qualified for the tournament, although they eventually reached the 1998 edition.

The competition being played on home soil also proved to be auspicious for Asian teams. 

South Korea’s unprecedented semi-final

South Korea's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink pumps his f : News Photo

The South Korean team of 2002 stunned the world by qualifying for the semi-finals on home ground. It still remains the furthest any Asian team has progressed in the competition. The fiery Korean side did so as well in remarkable fashion knocking out the likes of Portugal, Spain and Italy along the way. Although the defeat of Italy still harks back memories of controversy as the then-three time World Cup champions were hustled out of the competition by what appeared to be generous officiating.

The Taeguk Warriors emerged as champions of their group, which consisted of Portugal, Poland and the USA. They won the Azzurri 2-1 in Daejon, before eliminating the Spanish team in a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals.

Eventually, the hosts were beaten by Germany in the semi-finals and had to settle for fourth place after losing 3-2 to Turkey in an entertaining third place play-off.