Japan led the AFC’s biggest-ever contingent which also comprised Islamic Republic of Iran, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia and Australia – to a new benchmark in the Group Stages in Russia.
The five Asian teams collected an impressive 15 points from the opening phase -eclipsing the previous best of 14 points set in the 2002 and 2010 editions -and Japan qualified for the second round of the tournament.
Shaikh Salman said: “On behalf of the Asian football family, I would like to wish Japan the very best of luck against Belgium and I am confident that they will continue to perform to the best of their abilities.”
The AFC President added: “The AFC’s Vision and Mission underlined our intent to ensure Asian teams are better prepared to produce their best performance on the world’s biggest stage.
“The structural changes introduced during the 2018 FIFA World Cup preliminary qualification rounds further demonstrate our commitment and efforts. I would like to commend all the teams for their riveting performances in the group stage and for writing a new chapter in Asian football’s history on the global stage.”
The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia has been a remarkable tournament for Asia, with four AFC teams recording victories in the Group Stage – more than at any other FIFA World Cup in history.
Leading the way, Japan registered Asia’s first-ever victory against South American opponents in the FIFA World Cup when they defeated Colombia 2-1 in their Group H opener, which was also their first victory in the FIFA World Cup on European soil.
Displaying similar ambitions to write their names in the history books, Korea Republic stunned the football world after eliminating 2014 champions Germany with a famous 2-0 victory on Wednesday, becoming the first Asian side to beat the reigning World Cup holders in international football history.
There were also notable performances by the Islamic Republic of Iran, who defeated Morocco 1-0 in their opening match and then held defending European champions Portugal to a credible 1-1 draw, while Saudi Arabia staged a 2-1 comeback victory over Egypt in their final Group A match.
Australia also played with great determination to draw 1-1 with Denmark after pushing the highly-favoured France in their opening match before losing 2-1. In all, Asian teams have scored 13 goals so far in Russia 2018.
And among those goals was the individual brilliance by one of Asia’s brightest stars Japan’s Keisuke Honda, whose strike against Senegal earned him two accolades - the all-time leading Asian scorer with four goals and the first Japanese player to score in three editions of the FIFA World Cup.
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Photos: FIFA via Getty Images