Two games have now been played by every nation involved in the EAFF E1 Championships with Japan leading the way on a maximum 6 points, however both victories have been somewhat unconvincing with all Japanese winning goals coming in the final minutes.
In the first game Japan had to wait until the 94th minute to break North Korean resistance and snatch a last gasp winner, while the Chinese had a lot of the possession during the first half but failed to do anything decisive with it. Japan will face higher quality opposition in the World Cup than China or North Korea and on evidence from this tournament they’ll need to drastically up their game.
However, the reason for the unconvincing wins could be due to the timing of the competition. Most European leagues are still active, meaning that any star players based at European (or others) clubs cannot participate. The EAFF (East Asian Football Federation) should take this into consideration when they schedule this competition in the future because having each countries star players available would raise the competition’s profile and be likely to attract a bigger audience.
South Korea sit behind the Japanese in second place on 4 points. Drawing the first game 2-2 with China, and then defeating North Korea 1-0 in the Korea Derby. The South Koreans have also been unconvincing and may be suffering due to the same problem as Japan – their star players are not available due to still being in action for their clubs.
If their star players aren’t able to make a big difference then South Korea could be in bigger trouble than Japan at the 2018 World Cup as they were drawn into a considerably more difficult group, a one which many news outlets have considered the Group of Death with all predicting South Korea to finish bottom. If the Koreans want to stop this prediction from turning into reality, then they really need their big hitters to be performing in Russia on this showing so far.
Back to the EAFF Championships and Korea still stand a chance of winning, as they enter a final game vs Japan to dictate who the outright winner will be. That result against China could prove costly as anything other than a Korea victory would hand the championship to Japan.
China and North Korea sit 3rd and 4th respectively, they will face off against each other in the wooden spoon match, as both nations can no longer win the competition. China have 1 point from their draw with South Korea, and North Korea will be the nation feeling most hard done to. They lost against Japan in the 94th minute, and then lost to South Korea by one of the unluckiest own goals to concede that I’ve seen in an international match. Check it out on the EAFF’s Youtube page. We believe North Koreas luck will stay the same, and China will get their first win of the tournament in this match.
The tournament organizers have certainly got their wish by having the winner decided during the last game – which will be a battle of the two World Cup Qualifiers, Japan vs South Korea. We feel however with better planning put in place, and the global stars from each nation playing that this could have really been a showpiece event on the calendar in East Asian Football.