The East Asian Football Federation was formally established in May 28th 2002 to develop football in the region by promoting an active interchange within East Asia, strengthening unity and solidarity among its members, and making contributions to peace through football.
The Federation was jointly established by football associations from 8 East Asian countries/ regions: China PR, Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China, Macau-China, Japan, Korea Rep. and Mongolia. The DPR Korea joined the Federation in the same year. In 2008, the Northern Mariana Islands was officially recognized as a member and the EAFF expanded to 10 countries/ regions.
Among the member countries/regions, there is a diverse range of climates from countries like Mongolia which are very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter to countries like Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands where it is hot all year round. There are countries like Japan where there are four distinct seasons and China where the territory is vast and the environment is diverse. Despite the diversity in culture between the East Asian countries, the new concept of football is spreading and it is creating a huge and positive impact among the countries in Asia.
In order to boost the development of Asian football, the EAFF held the first East Asian Football Championship in Tokyo Japan in 2003. Korea Rep. and Japan, which had successfully jointly-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup, were among the countries participating in the first tournament. Other participants include China PR which participated in the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 2002 and Hong Kong-China, who took part in the tournament as the winner of the Preliminary Competition held between Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China, Macau-China and Mongolia.
The four teams above participated in the final stage. Korea Rep. won the tournament with two wins and one draw. From the tournament, Guam and Mongolia gained precious and practical experience as they lacked the experience of international class matches before. Players, coaches, and staff, who had gained valuable experience, returned to their countries and spread and development of football locally. Meanwhile, Hong Kong-China which was in the leading position in Asian football, gained valuable experience through competitions with the countries participating in the FIFA World Cup.
In the East Asian Football Championship 2005 Preliminary Competition in Chinese Taipei, DPR Korea won the qualifications against Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China and Mongolia. Although the team hadn’t gone far in the international arena, DPR Korea’s participation greatly increased the level of the team’s participation in the Preliminary Competition.
In the final stage, after a draw with Korea Rep. who was defeated by China PR, DPR Korea beat the FIFA World Cup qualifier Japan with 1-0. The defending champion Korea Rep. did not gain any victory. China PR eventually won the championship after debuted in the FIFA World Cup 2002. The performance from DPR Korea and China PR displayed the general improvement and development of East Asian football.
At the same time, the EAFF Women’s Cup was added to the 2005 East Asian Football Championship. The tournament was held between China PR, Japan, DPR Korea and Korea Rep.. Korea Rep. had the lowest FIFA ranking among the teams at the time at 26th. DPR Korea had the highest ranking at 8th, with China PR and Japan not far behind at 9th and 12th respectively. Despite their low ranking, Korea Rep. eventually won the Championship.
The 3rd East Asian Football Championship was held in 2008. Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China, DPR Korea and Mongolia took part in the Preliminary Competition held in Macau-China. Eventually DPR Korea won their second preliminary championship and advanced to the final stage. Before the preliminary games, Guam and the new EAFF member the Northern Mariana Islands competed with each other at home and away for qualifying in the preliminary competition. In this “Mariana Derby”, Guam won the match and advanced to the preliminary round. However these two matches had significant impact on the Northern Mariana Islands. In the final stage in Chongqing, China PR, Korea Rep. won their second title with no losses, one win and two draws.
Preliminary Competition was also added to the 2008 women’s tournament. The four countries included in the qualifier were Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China and Korea Rep.. Korea Rep. eventually won the qualification and competed against China PR, Japan and DPR Korea in the final stage. Japan beat China PR and DPR Korea, both of whom had higher FIFA rankings, and eventually won the championship.
In the year 2010, the 4th East Asian Football Championship was held in Japan again. The match system changed since this year, consisting of the preliminary competition, the semifinals and the final. The preliminary competition was held amongst Guam, Macau-China, Mongolia and the Northern Mariana Islands. Guam advanced to the semifinals. The semifinals were held between Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China and DPR Korea. Hong Kong-China advanced to the final stage with two wins and one draw. In the final stage held in Japan, China PR outstandingly beat Japan and Korea Rep. which represented Asia to participate in the FIFA World Cup and won the championship with two wins and one draw. The runner-up, Korea Rep., and the 3rd place winner, Japan, advanced to the top 16 teams in the 2010 South Africa FIFA World Cup. Their advancement demonstrated that East Asian football has gradually advanced to the international football professional level.
The preliminary competition for the women’s championship was held among Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China, Korea Rep. and the Northern Mariana Islands. The top two teams, Korea Rep. and Chinese Taipei, advanced to the final stage. Japan won the title again after winning the last championship. Along with winning the third consecutive championship, Japan has proved that they are on the same level as China PR and DPR Korea which have been the leading teams in East Asia.
Since the establishment of the East Asian Football Championship in 2003, we can see the significant improvement of the performance level of the members. The performance of Guam in the preliminary stage provides the best example.
Along with holding competitions between the top teams, EAFF has also contributed to developing athletes. In 2004, the EAFF U-14 youth tournament was held in Guam where Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong-China, DPR Korea, Guam and Mongolia participated in the tournament. In 2006, the U-14 youth festival was held in Beijing, China PR. The U-14 teams from China PR, Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong-China, Japan, DPR Korea, Korea Rep., Macau-China, Mongolia and the Northern Mariana Islands, an informal member at that time, participated in the tournament. Guam also held the U-14 youth festival in 2008. With high level competitions youth players who are the future of football have not only boosted football culture, but also deepened the understanding between the different cultures, and promoted unity.
By holding the East Asian Football Championship, the cooperation between members has matured. At the same time, the opportunity to hold the FIFA’s top level tournaments in East Asia has gradually increased.
The tournaments like the 2002 Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup, 2007 Korea FIFA U-17 World Cup, and 2008 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China PR were successfully held in East Asia. Football competitions between East Asian countries have flourished in the international stage through the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
As a result of their performance in the past tournaments, Korea Rep. and Japan had the ability to compete each other in the finals of the 2010 Trinidad and Tobago FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. Korea Rep. finally won the title. This is the first time that two teams from East Asia competed against each other in the finals of a FIFA tournament. Also, DPR Korea got the 4th place in the tournament. 3 East Asian teams’ appearance in the best 4 clearly proved the tremendous success of the development of East Asian football.
In the recent years, the East Asian teams have been the main force behind the Asian countries advancing to the FIFA World Cup. Although the West Asian countries such as Iran, UAE, and Saudi Arabia had more chances to appear in the FIFA World Cup in the past, the performance of East Asian football has undergone dramatic evolution. The appearance of the East Asian teams in international competitions including the appearance of Japan and Korea Rep. in 1998 FIFA World Cup, the appearance of China, Japan, Korea Rep. in 2002 FIFA World Cup, the appearance of Japan and Korea Rep. in 2006 and the appearance of Japan, DPR Korea and Korea Rep. in 2010 FIFA World Cup. By hosting international tournaments in East Asia, and the overall outstanding performance of East Asian teams in international tournaments, the message of development and advancement has been gradually sent from East Asia to all over the world.