The group stage is over at Asian Cup 2019 and a new cast of players have left their mark on the competition.
From the obstinate defenders of Jordan to Almoez Ali’s unheralded seven goals, stars are emerging across the continent.
Here is Sport360’s best XI of the opening phase:
GROUP-STAGE XI (4-2-3-1)
Amer Shafi (Jordan)
The enduring talents of the curiously nicknamed Whale of Asia have been on show in the UAE. At 36-years old, he is relishing a probable last shot at representing Jordan at a major tournament. Three clean sheets have followed from the vocal Shabab Al-Ordon shot stopper, beginning with the remarkable 1-0 win against holders Australia. A staggering stop from Awer Mabil’s strike in that game was just as vital as Anas Bani Yaseen’s goal.
Sayed Redha (Bahrain)
Youthful Bahrain’s progress into the round of 16 represents one of the tournament’s feel-good stories. Their exceptional Al Riffa right-back has been key to this progress. The 24-year-old first swung in a devilish cross that forced Mohammed Al Rohaimi’s opener in the shock 1-1 draw with hosts the UAE. Redha would then perform a key role in the late 1-0 win against India that secured progression to the knockouts for the first time since 2004.
Kim Min-jae (South Korea)
Three appearances, three clean sheets and two bullet headers. Kim has been outstanding in the UAE thus far, reinforcing his reputation as Asian football’s great defensive prospect. The strapping 6 ft 3 in centre-back is reminiscent of England’s Harry Maguire, being a dominant figure in both penalty boxes. The 22-year-old forced South Korea’s only goal against Kyrgyzstan and notched the second against China. Beijing Guoan could regret not wrapping up his signing, with Watford now circling.
Anas Bani Yaseen (Jordan)
What a way to introduce yourself to Asian Cup 2019. Jordan had been expected to be cannon fodder in the face of holders Australia. Instead, the 30-year-old rose above Massimo Luongo to head in the only goal. Even more impressively, the Al Faisaly defender would shut out a Syria side that contained lethal Saudi Professional League strikers Omar Al Somah and Omar Khrbin. A last clean sheet against Palestine completed a bravura Group B.
Ali Adnan (Iraq)
The Atalanta loanee is Serie A-honed – and a cut above at this level. The 25-year-old has dominated his left flank in all three matches for Iraq, producing an assist and a goal. This run includes one of the tournament’s most dramatic moments to date, when his free-kick flew in during second-half injury to earn an opening 3-2 triumph against crestfallen Vietnam. Adnan is a player living up to his big reputation in the UAE.
Ashkan Dejagah (Iran)
Dejagah has entered the twilight of his career, yet the 32-year-old remains a shining beacon for Team Melli. Re-cast in a centre midfield role, the well-travelled Tractor Sazi player got on the score sheet via a free-kick in the opening 5-0 dismantling of Yemen. He would then help run the match against Vietnam, putting the brakes on south-east Asia’s emerging force. Old habits die hard, however, and the ex-left winger has still managed to supply 10 crosses for Iran.
Abdullah Otayf (Saudi Arabia)
The key position in Juan Antonio Pizzi’s 4-1-4-1 formation for Saudi Arabia is the pivot between defence and attack. In Salman Al Faraj, they had Asia’s finest proponent. But a failure to prove his fitness led to opportunity for Al Hilal club-mate Otayf – and the Green Falcons have kept soaring. The 26-year-old’s 274 passes is second only to South Korea’s Jung Woo-young at the entire tournament. What a stand-in.
Eldor Shomurodov (Uzbekistan)
Goals have been in short supply with FC Rostov, but a flood of them has followed Shomurodov in the UAE. The powerful 23-year-old came off the substitutes’ bench to force a fortunate winner against Oman, scored twice in the rout of Turkmenistan then rapidly prodded home a strike of rare quality in the 2-1 loss to Japan. His combination of size and speed will make him a handful throughout the knockouts, beginning with Australia.
Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)
After their abysmal start against India, Thailand and Consadole Sapporo playmaker Songkrasin, 25, have not looked back. Freed from the tactical shackles of sacked coach Milovan Rajevac, the War Elephants have gone on a stampede. Diminutive Songkrasin flashed in a free-kick bright as his peroxide hair to earn an invaluable 1-0 triumph against Bahrain in caretaker Sirisak Yodyadthai’s debut, then regularly unsettled a special five-man defence by hosts UAE in a 1-1 draw.
Chris Ikonomidis (Australia)
A move back Down Under has provided lift off to Ikonomidis’ stalled career. The 23-year-old’s stunning start to life with Perth Glory after years of neglect at Lazio has translated into one goal and a leading four assists at Asian Cup 2019. In tandem with Awer Mabil, the Socceroos have not looked back since Robbie Kruse was hooked in defeat to Jordan. Ikonomidis will now need to keep this up versus Japan.
Almoez Ali (Qatar)
Al Duhail forward Ali’s seven goals is just one shy of the tournament record held by iconic Iran centre forward Ali Daei – and he’s done it in just three matches. The 22-year-old has also become only the fifth player to score four times in a single Asian Cup match, North Korea being the victims in Matchday Two. No wonder Jose Mourinho says he must leave the Qatar Stars League.
####Credit to Sport360####