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With South Korea's loss to Belgium, no Asian nations remain in World Cup

SAO PAULO -- With South Korea's 1-0 loss to Belgium Thursday, the last Asian team bowed out of the World Cup — leaving the continent without any representatives in the knockout stages.

The result caps a dismal campaign for South Korea, Japan, Australia and Iran, the continent's four representatives in Brazil.

The stats columns certainly didn't provide encouraging reading: Games Played — 12; Wins — 0; Draws — 3; Losses — 9.

South Korea has been to nine World Cups, more than any other Asian team, and is regarded as one of the two flagship representatives of the Far East. But it has regressed considerably since reaching the semifinals when it co-hosted the 2002 tournament with Japan.

The Japanese also reached the second round in '02, Australia reached the second round in 2006 — after qualifying through Oceania and before switching to the Asian confederation — and Japan and South Korea both advanced to the knockout rounds in 2010.

South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo, who was captain in 2002 when the team made its run to the semifinals, thinks Asian soccer is going through a “transition period” with individual players improving drastically but national teams not yet enjoying the results.

“I think that each team played in different styles but overall there were a lot of deficiencies in the Asian teams,” he said through a translator. “We weren't up to the standard ... we weren't good enough.”

Aside from the remarkable South Korean campaign a dozen years ago, Asian teams have not experienced much success on the world stage.

A relatively small number of Asian players are in the top European leagues and the sport didn't establish mass appeal across the continent until much later than Europe, South America and Africa.

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Belgium's Kevin Mirallas watches as South Korea's Hong Jeong-ho leaps to clear the ball during the Group H World Cup soccer match between South Korea and Belgium at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 26. (AP)

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