Which of Asia's FIFA World Cup contenders are best placed to go far in 2026?

Lee Kang-in recently starred for South Korea at the Olympics, netting three goals as his country reached the quarterfinals of Tokyo 2020. Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

DOHA, Qatar -- As the dust settles on Asia's participation at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the continent's representatives certainly made their fair share of statements on football's biggest stage over the past fortnight.

For the first time ever, three teams from the Asian Football Confederation reached the round of 16 in Japan, South Korea and Australia.

There were memorable wins by the Japanese over former champions Germany and Spain, by South Korea with their dramatic triumph over Portugal, and even by Saudi Arabia as they came from behind to beat a certain Lionel Messi and Argentina.

Nonetheless, making an impact is one thing. Being able to sustain it and take it another level is another.

With the World Cup set to expand to 48 teams in 2026, there is every chance Asia's representatives in Qatar will feature once again four years from now.

So how well placed are each of Asia's hopefuls to better their performances from this year?


Players from current squad who will be 30 or below in 2026: 14
Players from current squad who will be above 30 in 2026: 12

Qatar have plenty to improve on after suffering three consecutive defeats as hosts on their tournament debut. And it looks like they will need serious rejuvenation if they are to perform better in four years' time.

Almost their entire starting XI will be above 30 by the time the next World Cup comes around with stalwarts such as Hassan Al-Haydos, Boualem Khoukhi, Ro-Ro, Karim Boudiaf and Saad Al-Sheeb all set to be in their 36th year in 2026 -- and unlikely to still be at the top of their games if they are even still playing at all.

All is not lost however, with the younger brigade of Akram Afif, Almoez Ali and Bassam Al-Rawi in their mid-20s and likely to hit their peak over the next few years.

Qatar did however suffer from a lack of experience at a higher level, and it is imperative that such players gain as much exposure as they can -- as opposed to just continuing their careers domestically -- if they are to give a better account of themselves in the future.

Prospects for 2026? C.


Players from current squad who will be 30 or below in 2026: 5
Players from current squad who will be above 30 in 2026: 20

Quite clearly, this was the best chance for Iran's golden generation to claim a long-awaited maiden appearance in the World Cup knockout round -- and they ultimately fell short with just a win over Wales and defeats to England and United States.

Only five members of the 2022 World Cup squad will be aged 30 or below come 2026 -- with only Saeid Ezatolahi and Majid Hosseini being able to consider themselves as members of the current starting XI.

Star striker Sardar Azmoun could still be a valuable contributor at the age of 31, but other key players like Mehdi Taremi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Morteza Pouraliganji might be in the twilight of their careers by then.

Team Melli do have a steady production line of promising young talent, so it might be imperative that Abolfazl Jalali, Allahyar Sayyadmanesh and Mehdi Ghayedi all start receiving more exposure as soon as possible.

Prospects for 2026? B-.


Player from current squad who will be 30 or below in 2026: 10
Players from current squad who will be above 30 in 2026: 16

Saudi Arabia provided one of the results of the tournament with their triumph over Argentina, instantly winning over many a neutral. The victory is arguably the greatest ever by an Asian team in World Cup history, but can the Green Falcons back it up in four years' time?

It will certainly be tricky. At the age of 33, inspirational captain Salman Al-Faraj looks to have played at the World Cup for the last time, while fellow star man Salem Al-Dawsari will be turning 35 by the time the next tournament comes around.

Others such as Yasser Al-Shahrani, Ali Al-Bulaihi and Mohammed Al-Breik are all the wrong side of 30 already, although Saudi Arabia did boast some promising young talent in Firas Al-Buraikan, Hassan Al-Tambakti and Saud Abdulhamid (all below the age of 24) and 25-year-old Sami Al-Najei.

That quartet alone can form the nucleus of the 2026 team. And with additions from the teams that won both the 2018 AFC U-19 and 2022 AFC U-23 Championships -- such as Abdullah Al-Hamdan and Turki Al-Ammar -- it looks like the Green Falcons could soar higher even though they are set to lose some key members of the current side.

Prospects for 2026? B.


Players from current squad who will be 30 or below in 2026: 12
Players from current squad who will be above 30 in 2026: 14

After failing to qualify out of the group stage at the past three World Cups, Australia finally returned to the knockout round in stirring fashion -- bouncing back from an opening 4-1 loss to France to advance with back-to-back wins over Tunisia and Denmark, which is also the first time they notched more than one victory at a single edition.

While the journey ultimately came to an end at the hands of Argentina in the round of 16, the Socceroos left Qatar with their heads held high and there is reason to believe they can do it all again in 2026.

It remains to be seen if coach Graham Arnold will remain in charge with his future yet to be sorted but there is plenty of talent for whoever is at the helm to work with,with 18-year-old prodigy Garang Kuol the clear standout.

Apart from Kuol, Harry Souttar -- still only 24 -- could easily be Australia's defensive lynchpin for the next decade while other prospects like Keanu Baccus, Riley McGree and Marco Tilio should only grow in influence, although a focal point in attack is one area that might need addressing.

Prospects for 2026? B+.


Player from current squad who will be 30 or below in 2026: 11
Players from current squad who will be above 30 in 2026: 15

The heartbreak of missing out on a maiden quarterfinal appearance via a penalty shootout defeat should only serve as added motivation for Japan come 2026, but they are likely to be without several stalwarts from the current squad like captain Maya Yoshida and fellow veteran defenders Yuto Nagatomo and Hiroki Sakai.

Of the current team who will still be 30 or younger in four years' time, Daichi Kamada, Takefusa Kubo, Kaoru Mitoma, Ao Tanaka, Ritsu Doan and Takehiro Tomiyasu all look like they will be present once again should they be fit and firing.

Such a significant number of youthful individuals already playing an integral role for the Samurai Blue bodes well for their future.

And there could even be further reinforcements to come in the form of Europe-based players like Reo Hatate, Yukinari Sugawara and Ayumu Seko -- although a long-term No. 1 needs to be high on the priority list given all three current goalkeepers are 30 or older.

Prospects for 2026? A.


Player from current squad who will be 30 or below in 2026: 12
Players from current squad who will be above 30 in 2026: 14

When the 2026 World Cup comes around, South Korea star Son Heung-min will be turning 34. He could still be performing at a world-class level but there is every chance he will need more support than he already does.

Thankfully for the Taegeuk Warriors, their long-term prospects are shaping up nicely given the exposure they have given some of the younger members of their squad at this year's tournament.

Centre-back Kim Min-jae and midfield general Hwang In-beom will be at the perfect age of 30 when the next edition of the World Cup comes around, with striker Cho Gue-sung -- who enjoyed a breakout two-goal performance against Ghana -- a year younger.

Wonderkid Lee Kang-in will still only be 25 then and should ideally have plenty more experience in European club football under his belt, which will only serve South Korea well especially if they are able to unearth a couple more gems over the next few years.

Prospects for 2026? B+.