All four Asian teams that qualified for the World Cup – Korea Republic, Japan, Iran, and Australia – have not yet seen a win. With so few Group matches left, Asia's teams have a bleak chance at advancing into the Knockout Stage. For the 20th World Cup in a row, since the first World Cup in 1930, no country in Asia will win.

European and South American teams overshadow the chance for any Asian team to lift the Cup even though there are 20 million more people who play football in Asia than in Europe. Even though there are more football players in Asia than the combined number in the Caribbean and North, Central, and South America - Asia has more footballers but less football champions. Why?

A world champion isn’t just made up of skill, training and hard work. Being a champion doesn’t start on the field or at practice. It starts with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle and is aided by opportunities to participate in sport. The dream of becoming World Champions is one that for Asia’s footballers is hindered from the start.

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Almost 200 million children in Asia are malnourished. Photo ©World Vision

"Across the region, boys and girls are not able to compete with their peers because they have been malnourished from the very beginning, lacking vital vitamins and minerals, called micronutrients, as well as macronutrients such as protein, fat and energy. Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, starting from the point of conception to a child’s second birthday, can set back physical and mental development for a lifetime." according to a report titled "Fuelling Asia's Footballers for the Future" from One Goal, a campaign seeking to leverage the power of football to end child malnutrition in Asia.

The campaign also reports that almost 200 million of Asia’s children are malnourished – the highest number for any region in the world. 100 million of the 165 million children who are stunted globally live in Asia. At the same time, 16.5 million children under-five in Asia are overweight and obese; this number is expected to rise to 23.1 million by 2025. 

"Poor nutrition from the start of life and an unhealthy lifestyle later in life are the reason why Asia’s children – future footballers – aren’t able to compete equally with their international counterparts on the field," says Stefan Germann, Executive Director of the One Goal campaign. 

The One Goal campaign is a partnership initiative of World Vision, Asian Football Confederation, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, DSM, and Asian Football Development that seeks to bring awareness to the issue of child malnutrition in Asia and powerfully inspire and mobilise the football community to take action to increase the number of children in Asia who survive and thrive.

It is also a fact that a child born today into a poor community in Asia will not have the same opportunities to participate and develop through organised sport as children in Europe or North America. For Asia’s children the dream of becoming football champions ends before it begins from a lack of opportunity and a lifetime of malnutrition.

One Goal's flagship report calls for "a growing network of grassroots football clubs across Asia which can transform the eating habits of children and adolescents across Asia, while educating their parents about good nutritional practices".  This, along with tried and tested nutritional interventions such as exclusive breast feeding,  nutrition dense foods and investment in food fortification should give young people in these nations a "sporting change" at a great start in life.  The campaign will also seek to leverage the power of football players as ambassadors to bring about policy change that strengthens health systems and national nutrition policies  across the region while promoting grassroots football as a way of moving young people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

"Through One Goal we hope to bring together the more than 1.4 billion football lovers in Asia to create a movement for child nutrition and healthy lifestyle," said Stefan Germann.  "This is a 10 year campaign that has the potential to transform nutrition in the region so that we can dream of the possibility of an Asian team winning the Qatar 2022 World Cup."

While that hope live on,  Korea Republic, Japan, Iran, and Australia are already going back to the drawing board to plan their campaigns for the next World Cup in Russia.  For many Asian nations,  the journey may have to start at other places - like the kitchen and dining tables.

Read this post on The Guardian.

Read related post: Life in the poorest World Cup nations