Home Advantage in the Asian Cup
Comment: The AFC Asian Cup 2011 starts this week in Qatar. It is the second time Qatar arranges the AFC Asian Cup (last time was 1988), but this time extra attention is drawn to the cup, as Qatar last month controversially won the right to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The big topic of discussion after Qatar got the World Cup - next to accusations of corruption - has been Qatar’s hot climate.
The Asian Cup will certainly influence the debate about whether the World Cup in 2022 should be moved to the winter or not. From this point of view, this year’s tournament is perhaps the most important Asian Cup ever. But it is also interesting for other reasons.
It was a big surprise that Iraq won the cup in 2007. It was surprising that a war-torn Iraq could go to the top in this tournament, and many - including myself - believed that Iraq's triumph was good for nation-building in a fragile country. In retrospect, it proved that football as a nation-builder has limited effect - also in Iraq. But it was also surprising that none of the four host nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam) were among the top four.
As in the African Cup of Nations, being host is a big advantage in the Asian Cup. In fourteen championships, host nations have been in the finals eight times and have won six times. In the African Cup, host nations have won eleven of the 26 championships and only three times has the host nation not been among the top four (1984, 1992 and 1994). This separates the Asian Cup (and African Cup) from the European Football Championships. Out of thirteen European Cups, the host nation has only won three times (1964, 1968 and 1984) and been losing finalists just once (2004).
Cup is cup
Another interesting feature is that success in the Asian Cup does not necessarily mean success in the World Cup. This also separates Asia from Europe. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Japan have been the most successful nations in the Asian Cup. All have won three times each. South Korea comes in second with two tournament victories. None of the three most successful teams in the Asian Cup have made it far in the World Cup.
Saudi Arabia got a 12th place in the 1994 World Cup, Iran a 14th place in 1978 and Japan made it to a 9th place in 2002, as their best results. South Korea is the team that has done best in the world championship with a 4th place in 2002.
There is some correlation between best performances in the AFC Asian Cup and best results in the World Cup. For instance, Iran was on top in the AFC Asian Cup in the last part of the 60s and in the 70s and had their best World Cup result in 1978. However, supremacy in the AFC Asian Cup is not followed up with great success in the World Cup.
Several times teams that have done well in the Asian Cup have not even managed to qualify for the World Cup. At this point too, Europe stands out. Apart from the World Cup in 2002, one or more nations from the top four at the European Championships have always been among the top four in the World Cup two years later.
On this Asia takes after Africa, although Africa is a little lion head in front. Africa has three World Cup seventh places (Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010). And Egypt - which has won the African championship seven times – has only qualified for the World Cup twice (1934 and 1990), where they ended up in the thirteenth and twentieth place.
Qatar in the winter time
Qatar has never qualified for the World Cup and even if the country is successful at home in the 2011 Asian Cup, it is unlikely that they will play in Brazil in 2014. Most likely Qatar will not enter World Cup grass before 2022 when at home ground.
That is another home advantage in the World Cup. Many would argue that Qatar's home advantage is the summer heat. To disprove that, they will have to do well on their own grass this year, in January. And if Qatar - against most odds - do well this year, we get yet another argument for moving the World Cup 2022 to winter ...
This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on 6 January 2011. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on sportensuutholdeligeletthet.blogspot.com