PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) — The four Asian teams are having a dismal World Cup in terms of the win-loss ledger, and things will only get worse if South Korea doesn't beat Algeria on Sunday.
So far, Australia is out of contention after two matches, while Japan and Iran are hanging on by a thread.
South Korea needs to bank maximum competition points against Algeria ahead of its last Group H match against Belgium, which could determine which teams advance.
"We need the points, so the game with Algeria is very important," coach Hong Myung-bo said. "What I can say is that we are going to play to win. We have to win to pass out of the group."
South Korea, which reached the second round in South Africa four years ago in its best World Cup performance since a run to the semifinals when it co-hosted the tournament in 2002, only managed a 1-1 draw in its opener against Russia. The Koreans looked marginally the better side in what was a scrappy match, but its goal from substitute Lee Keun-ho came from a goalkeeping blunder.
Asia nations get four automatic spots at the World Cup but have struggled to really shine, with the exception of the remarkable South Korean campaign a dozen years ago.
Among the reasons for that is the relatively small number of Asian players in the top European leagues and the fact football didn't establish mass appeal in many countries across the continent until much later than Europe, South America and Africa.
And while the performances of some of the Asian teams have been heartening, the win column was empty after the first 10 days of the tournament.
Australia has played well against stronger opponents — and has contender for goal of the tournament in Tim Cahill's volley against the Netherlands — but has two losses. Iran had a 0-0 draw with Nigeria but managed to hold and occasionally threaten Argentina for 90 minutes, only to lose 1-0 to a brilliant injury- time goal by Lionel Messi.
Japan, which came into the competition confidently, surrendered a lead before losing 2-1 to the Ivory Coast 2-1 and then was held 0-0 by 10-man Greece.
"Up until now Asian teams haven't had a very good record," Hong said. "I don't know if Asian football has got worse or other teams have progressed more. I hope that Asian football will continue to work and be able to progress more in the future."
To get a result against Algeria, which lost 2-1 to Belgium, Hong will have to find a way to get more out of his attacking lineup. One piece of good news is that striker Lee Chung-young has been declared fit after picking up an injury in the opener.
Hong said he expected Algeria to play a more attacking game than it did against Belgium, and he wanted his Korean squad to make more of its chances.
"We are going to have to play a different game compared to the Russian match," he said. "There will be opportunities to score, whether we take advantage of those will be key to winning the match."