by John WEAVER
CUIABA, June 23, 2014 - Asian Football Confederation (AFC) teams are heading for their first World Cup blank in 24 years, with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran all failing to muster a single victory in Brazil so far.
In the latest setback, South Korea went down 4-2 to Algeria in Porto Alegre on Sunday after drawing their Group H opener against Russia -- leaving them with slim hopes of making the last 16.
Japan have also disappointed, losing 2-1 to Ivory Coast in their first match in Group C and then failing to find the net against 10-man Greece in a 0-0 stalemate.
Australia lost 3-1 to Costa Rica in their opening game in Group B but can at least take heart from their spirited performance against 2010 finalists the Netherlands in a match they briefly led before losing 3-2.
Iran can hold their heads high after they battled hard against Argentina on Saturday before a stunning injury-time strike from Lionel Messi earned the South Americans a 1-0 win in the Group F fixture.
The results for the teams from the AFC spell bitter disappointment after notable progress at recent World Cups.
In Italy 1990, neither the United Arab Emirates nor South Korea notched a win.
But at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Saudi Arabia reached the knockout phase and four years later Iran famously beat the United States in France in a group match.
At the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, South Korea stunned the football world by reaching the semi-finals while Japan made the round of 16.
Four years later in Germany, it was Australia's turn to shine, with the Socceroos reaching the knockout phase before being narrowly beaten by eventual champions Italy.
And in 2010, Japan reached the last 16 again only to go out on penalties to Paraguay.
Veteran Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has been left scratching his head as he searches for ways to get his toothless forward line to fire, with his side still harbouring outside hopes of qualification for the next round.
"We know that overall our play over the past four years has been far better than how we have performed here and we all understand that," he said ahead of their match in Cuiaba on Tuesday.
Australia cannot qualify for the knockout phase after two defeats but all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill is convinced they can salvage some pride by beating dethroned world champions Spain.
"We've got one more game to go and it is not about Tim Cahill," said the New York Red Bulls player, who scored a stunning goal in the team's defeat by the Netherlands.
"This last game is massive. If we beat Spain that will be one of the biggest moments in Australian history," added Cahill, who misses the match through suspension.