Through the broken pavements in Nepal to the fish markets in Bangladesh, and across the landmines in Afghanistan to the railway tracks in India, football has slowly and steadily tried to seep into an Asian culture that is mainly dominated by fan-favorites, cricket and hockey. 

The previous World Cup, which was held in Brazil, was a forgettable one for Asian sides. Expectations were realistically high - specifically from South Korea who have been the most consistent Asian side in World Cups - to at least get past the group stages, but all Asian teams struggled against top sides and finished last in their respective groups. Asian involvement produced results that were a timely reminder that a lot had to be done on the road to Russia, if the region was to restore any pride. Nobody can guarantee success for Asian teams in the upcoming World Cup nor can they guarantee better performances, and at the moment, everything seems to be going against the revival of football in the continent. The lack of funding, poor pitch quality and lack of seriousness in the game has eventually warded off interest from fans and supporters who would much rather support European clubs and rightly so. An ineffective tactical approach has been adopted by the team and managers are often biased in the selection of certain players who are deemed not good enough to play regularly for their clubs. A prime example of this was the exclusion of Yousuf Butt from the Pakistan squad that faced Yemen, in favour of Muzamil Hussain, who was badly exposed by the Yemen attack and forced into making errors that, arguably, cost Pakistan a spot in the next round. Also, Mohammad Rasool, the striker who helped K-Electric win their maiden league title last season, was excluded from the squad for unknown reasons.

The football currently being played in the continent is mediocre to say the least. The lack of money being injected in football results in less available opportunities and meager salaries that push these players into doing part-time jobs or to leave their countries and showcase their talents elsewhere. Without these international players, the team is too weak to take part in any big event. With them, the team is a disjoint mess of individuals playing for themselves. As a result of it, teams fail to produce any chances and low team chemistry results in embarrassing losses. 

Run by the Pakistan Football Federation, the Pakistan football team has failed to produce anything worth mentioning. Football in Pakistan, like all other sports, had fallen prey to dirty politics and a limited fan base that could not care any lesser. When playing at college or school level, Pakistan has immense talent. All those street kids who could have been on the radar of elite European clubs, being touted as the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, if only they had been born in the other half of the world. Pakistan, like all Asian countries, lacks the basic infrastructure that would allow these kids to become a part of youth academies. Lack of international friendlies and competitive games for national sides result in fan frustration. Hence, when top clubs arrive in Asia for pre-season tours, fans often tend to support foreign-based clubs and sing their club anthems rather than backing local sides which further crushes player morales. 

Lack of stability in the squads does a considerable amount of damage to a player's ego, probably killing his ambitions to represent his country at an international stage. International leagues are looked upon as an escape and the key to a better life. Players who do play in foreign leagues get higher wages, get to play on better pitches and benefit from state of the art training facilities in a football-enthusiastic environment. To say that it is impossible to replicate a similiar environment in India or Pakistan would be an overstatement. Difficult, yes. A vision is required to create a better set-up with the help of ex players and football experts who have better knowledge of the game as compared to ex-politicians or civil servants.

In a dull continent with zero ambition, the introduction of a franchise-based football league was truly magical. India recently witnessed the rise of football through their commercial league, Hero Indian Super League. Where some might disagree with the notion of commercialising a game, I believe that this is exactly what is required. After its inaugural season, rapid progress was witnessed as the likes of Balwant Singh came under the spotlight and Arnab Mondal, an essential part of Atletico de Kolkata's success, was reportedly on Atletico de Madrid's radar. This will not only pave way for local players to become superstars at the international club level and play for Europe's elite, but it will also change the continent's perspective as a whole regarding the game. 

India has taken the first step towards revival and could possibly, given political barriers do not restrain it, involve its neighbours and create a proper footballing set-up that encourages the growth and revival of football all across Asia.