Africa and Asia advance with World Cup’s diverse knockout stage.

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By Creative Media News

During the tedious dispute over whether the ball crossed the byline before Ao Tanaka’s game-winning goal for Japan versus Spain, something more vital was lost. The goal ultimately assured that every continent was represented in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time. Less than a day would pass before South Korea bolstered Asia’s representation, ensuring the most varied round of elimination in tournament history.

It provides for an enticing set of ties and will also be music to Qatar’s ears, which despite contradictory evidence persistently positions itself as a unifying factor. Hosting a competition with a broader global distribution of participants than any other is easy to spin positively: the mixture is a result of the drama that, after a sluggish start, gave this group stage a claim to being the best in footballing terms.

Africa and asia advance with world cup's diverse knockout stage.
Africa and asia advance with world cup's diverse knockout stage.

Those residing outside of Europe and South America have a special reason to concur. Six countries from outside of football’s traditional powerhouse continents have reached the knockout round, a feat that has never been accomplished in the nine previous tournaments to include a round of 16.

Without the presence of Sadio Mané, Riyad Mahrez, Victor Osimhen, and Mohamed Salah, Africa has matched its best performance in qualifying two of its five teams, Morocco and Senegal, while Asia has matched its 2002 peak. Australia has been under the auspices of the Asian Football Confederation since 2006. This is the AFC’s greatest performance.

What does this all mean? Given that, for individuals outside of Europe, modest allocations mean that the line between apparent success and failure might be razor thin, it may be foolish to make broad conclusions.

World cup knockout stage
Africa and asia advance with world cup's diverse knockout stage.

One outcome can alter everything. Didier Drogba referred to Africa’s failure to go past the group stage as a “huge setback” four years ago when the continent was introspecting after failing to advance a single player beyond the group stage.

Now the United States can point to a World Cup that, in some way, has already been its best: African sides have won a record seven matches in Qatar, and only a decent Ghana team, whose fortunes changed after André Ayew missed an early penalty kick against Uruguay, finished with fewer than four points. In actuality, the level of football in Africa has not fluctuated as radically during the past five years.

After Ghana’s first loss to Portugal, their manager at the time, Otto Addo, remarked, “It is tough to advance if you have five places.” If a club has 12 or 14 slots, the likelihood that it will advance is extremely high.

Africa will be represented by at least nine teams at the expanded World Cup in 2026, one of the vanishingly few benefits of which is that higher allocations for the previously underrepresented regions should make it simpler to identify trends. Asia will increase its contingent by at least two. Europe’s share of slots will decrease to one-third from its existing level of forty percent.

Given that the optimistic proclamation of a new world order failed to materialize after 2002 when Senegal joined co-hosts South Korea in the quarterfinals, excitement for a global leveling should be moderated.

However, the idea is not wholly fantastical. It was remarkable to hear Morocco coach Walid Megraoui talk after his team’s 0-0 draw with Croatia, which laid the groundwork for future triumph.

“We performed like a European squad, which is why I am so pleased,” he remarked. “Everyone would be tremendously angry if we had performed magnificently and lost. We performed as a European team would and made it difficult for them to play against us. We must examine African subtleties and comprehend how to win close matches.”

It shows that in a football world with few secrets, the carefully practiced techniques mastered in the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A may have finally permeated the more chaotic international game.

Except for Qatar and Saudi Arabia, whose fortunes were strongly mixed, every team in this competition included a significant number of players from these big domestic leagues.

This has been true for two decades, so it is hardly a novelty. But when they are supplemented by a generation of tactically astute, quick-thinking coaches who know how to harness the abilities taught abroad in a short amount of time, it might signal the next stage.

Before defeating Spain, Japan’s coach Hajime Moriyasu referred to European football as “the gold standard in the globe.” In particular, the Japanese game has had significant ties with Germany for many years.

On one level, such appraisals are unsettling, as Asian and African teams should not feel driven to abandon their distinctive playing styles in deference to theories developed in Manchester, Munich, and Madrid.

Homogenization should not be the sole option available. But football has been trending in this direction for quite some time, and it becomes more palatable if the “European” standard is viewed as a global one, practiced by players and coaches from all over the world, which has taken root in Europe.

South American teams have historically struck a balance between what works domestically and internationally. Only two of Conmebol’s teams have advanced thus far, making this World Cup a disappointment for Conmebol.

This has only occurred twice before. Even if Ecuador and Uruguay would have qualified with four points in another year, there are no support acts in the knockout round.

Seven of the eight groups had a team that did not qualify despite earning two victories and a tie. If previously unrecognized outposts are now expressing themselves more vociferously, it indicates that this tournament is doing its intended function.

And even if Europe has been represented more sparsely only twice in the previous sixteen years, a fifty percent share of the places still tells a story.

On Saturday night, despite all the analyses and explanations, an Australian striker named Mitchell Duke from Japanese second-tier club Fagiano Okayama will have had reason to believe he can outshoot Lionel Messi and Argentina. Perhaps more than anything else, this demonstrates the vastness of what lies ahead.

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