Mat Ryan with something to prove with Australia at World Cup, Japan content
Of all the Asian stars who will be heading from the Premier League to the World Cup next June, Australia and Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan is the one with the most unfinished business. The good news is a group containing France, Denmark and Peru looks a lot better than in 2014.
Back in Brazil, Ryan had not long replaced the venerable Mark Schwarzer as the Socceroos No.1 and had a tough time as Australia were faced with the toughest of groups with Spain, Netherlands and Chile.
The Aussie, 22 at the time, could have done better in a 3-1 defeat against Chile and then in a 3-2 loss to Netherlands, although he shone against Spain. After the Aussies left at the group stage, he admitted things could have gone better.
"I have to go away now, assess my performances and look at what I can do to improve and help me in these situations against these world class players," he said at the time. "I know that conceding three goals in each of these games isn't good enough."
Facing some of the world's best forwards was a real eye-opener for the Sydney-born No.1.
"You give them an inch and they take a mile," he said. "I've got to go away and become better at one-on-ones, be better at shot-stopping and better in every aspect. We can't be giving them these inches in the future. It's a big learning curve for a lot of us."
Ryan has certainly done some learning. At the time, he was in Belgium with Club Brugge. In 2015 came a big move to Valencia, although injuries limited his opportunities in Spain. In June, he came to the Premier League, signing for newly promoted Brighton.
So far, so good. The Seagulls have been flying fairly high in the top tier and the 25-year-old has been ever-present this season. Facing some of the best attackers in the world will stand Ryan in great stead to face France, Peru and Denmark.
Fellow Australian Aaron Mooy was nowhere near the World Cup in 2014 and was released by Western Sydney Wanderers before the tournament. But the midfielder was snapped up by Melbourne City and proceeded to become one of the best midfielders in the country. Signed by Manchester City in 2016 and sent to Huddersfield Town -- then in the Championship -- on loan, Mooy starred as the Terriers won promotion. The deal was then made permanent. Adapting to the Premier League has been a breeze, and the 27-year-old is going to be crucial in Russia.
All connected with Japan will be happy with a Group H containing Colombia, Poland and Senegal. It is as open as it gets. It remains to be seen what part Shinji Okazaki plays, however. The striker has scored 50 goals for his country and helped Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016. But despite four goals in eight starts for the Foxes this term, he was dropped by Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic for friendlies against Brazil and Belgium in November. The 31-year-old is going to be in the squad but will have to fight for a starting spot. Southampton centre-back Maya Yoshida should have no such worries and his experience will prove vital, especially in that big opening game against Colombia.
There is no question about the biggest Asian star in the Premier League. Son Heung-Min has impressed for Tottenham in the past couple of seasons, and 14 goals in the league last term tell their own story. The forward is Korea's biggest hope for next summer, and Son is going to have to shine like never before when playing for the national team as he takes on Germany, Sweden and Mexico. The good news is that while the 25-year-old plays fairly often, he gets plenty of rest in London. He should be fresh, fit and raring to go.
The same may be true of Ki Sung-yeung. Three caps away from his century, the captain makes Korea tick. But injuries have limited playing time with Swansea, and it remains to be seen if the team's struggles help or hinder the former FC Seoul man as he prepares for a third World Cup.
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.