The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Asian players warned to get on-field time with clubs to boost World Cup chances
SEOUL, South Korea - For many Asian players the dream move to football's big leagues in Europe has not been all they hoped for and could even damage their chances of appearing at the World Cup this June.
Japan playmaker Shinji Kagawa has started just seven of Manchester United's 21 league games so far this season, but at least he can expect to be in the starting lineup for Japan's opening World Cup match against Ivory Coast on June 14.
Others are not so sure.
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou has warned his players they need to be active for their clubs to boost their chances of going to Brazil. That makes the current January transfer window — the last chance to move this season — a vital one.
Socceroo captain Lucas Neill is without a team after his contract in Japan with Omiya Ardija ended in December. Young talent Tom Rogic is struggling to make the starting eleven in Scotland with Celtic and has been linked with a loan move to Japan or back to the A-League in a bid to get some playing time.
"I really need players playing and fit around selection time," Postecoglou said media earlier this month. "For Lucas and others in the group, there are some pretty big decisions to come.As long as they're playing regularly and playing well, they give themselves the chance to be selected."
There is also an issue with goalkeepers. There are Australian stoppers at big clubs, but Liverpool's Brad Jones and Mitch Langerak at Borussia Dortmund have played just two league games between them this season. That leaves Mat Ryan, ever present at Club Brugge this season, in the driver's seat.
Another Asian star in serious danger of missing out on what would be his third World Cup is Park Chu-young, who has played just seven minutes of Premier League action since joining Arsenal in August 2011.
The South Korean striker was loaned out to Spain's Celta Vigo for much of the 2012-13 season but returned to London and inactivity in May. Despite links to France and second tier clubs in England last summer, he has remained in North London and made just one appearance this season in the final minutes of a League Cup game.
At the time of his surprise move to Arsenal from Monaco, the 28 year-old was Korea's top striker, but he last started a game for his country in October 2012. Since taking over as head coach of the South Korea in July, Hong Myong-bo has made it clear that if Park does not play competitive games he runs the risk of not being selected for Brazil.
Many have urged Park to follow the lead of compatriot Ki Sung-yeung who moved on loan from Swansea City to Sunderland in the summer and has been a standout performer for the English Premier League club.
According to Hong, Park may still make the plane but may not play. "It is true that Chu-young has not been able to maintain the best feel of the game because he hasn't been playing. But a player who can act as a psychological leader among the players will help the team greatly, and in my opinion, Chu-young can do that," Hong told Korean media this month.
Park was part of Hong's bronze-winning Olympic team in 2012, but this time it's slightly different.
"This World Cup takes place immediately after the European league season ends, unlike the London Olympics in 2012," Hong said. "This makes it even more difficult for Chu-young to be in his top form when he joins the national team."
Japan's Maya Yoshida is the main central defender for the national team, but after starting 31 games in the English Premier League for Southampton last season, he has played just twice in this campaign. His 935 minutes of action for the national team since last May when the league season ended, stands in stark contrast to the 180 minutes he has managed for his club.
Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad, who emerged as the team's attacking star during World Cup qualifying, has made just one appearance for Belgium league leader Standard Liege this season. His World Cup place in unlikely to be under threat, so crucial has he become to Iran, yet there are concerns that the speedy forward will be short of match fitness in June.
A move back to the Dutch league or England has been rumoured but for Ghoochannejhad and some of Asia's biggest stars, the time for a much-needed move is running out.
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