Hidetoshi Nakata, Ali Daei, Park Ji-Sung – in the history of the FIFA World Cup there has been no shortage of Asian players who have shone on football’s biggest stage.
And with the World Cup returning to Asian soil for the first time since Japan and South Korea co-hosted the competition in 2002, many are hoping it will be their turn in the spotlight.
– World Cup 2022: all squad lists for Qatar
For traditional heavyweights Japan, South Korea and Iran – who have no shortage of European-based stars – these could be some pretty recognizable names lighting up the World Cup.
But for hosts Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who have squads made up entirely of players plying their trade domestically, there could be an unfamiliar face or two rising to prominence.
Here we look at ten that could do just that.
Almoez Ali (Qatar)
Born in Sudan but having moved to Qatar as a child, Almoez Ali is now widely regarded as one of Asia’s leading strikers, thanks in large part to his scintillating performances in the triumphant Asian Cup campaign in the Champions League. AFC national team in 2019.
Almoez netted a staggering nine goals in just seven games, including crucial strikes in the semi-finals and final, to win the tournament’s Golden Boot and Most Valuable Player awards.
Since then, the 26-year-old has also scored at the Copa America and the CONCACAF Gold Cup when the Qataris appeared as a guest team, and hopes to add at least one World Cup goal to his list. collection.
Abdelkarim Hassan (Qatar)
Defenders are less often in the spotlight but, in Abdelkarim Hassan, Qatar have a feeling machine at left-back.
The Al Sadd man is more than capable of performing his defensive duties, but he is more often seen going wild – racking up goals and assists at will – and thriving when his side take a particularly adventurous approach.
The 2018 Asian Footballer of the Year, part of the first Qatar team to ever grace a World Cup, will come as a form of redemption for the sometimes unstable Abdelkarim, who tarnished his reputation three years ago when he was hit with a five-month ban by the Asian Football Confederation for excessively confronting a referee in an AFC Champions League tie.
Mehdi Taremi (Iran)
At the last World Cup, Mehdi Taremi was still playing in Asia and may be remembered for a crucial injury-time miss that robbed Iran of a shock win over Portugal – and a place. history in the round of 16.
Four years later, he is now a striker at the peak of his powers, playing for Portuguese giants Porto with five UEFA Champions League goals to his name already this season.
A key member of the Porto side that won the Portuguese league and cup double last season, Taremi has netted an impressive 62 goals in the three-and-a-half seasons since moving to Portugal – first with Rio Ave – and is quite capable. to injure one of the teams that Iran face in Group B.
Alireza Beiranvand (Iran)
While it was Taremi who missed the chance to give Iran a historic win over Portugal in that last World Cup game, the fact that they were even in such a position was due to the goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand – who instantly stepped into the limelight. when he deprived a certain Cristiano Ronaldo from the penalty spot.
Beiranvand, a four-time Iranian league champion with Persepolis, eventually moved to Europe with Belgium’s Royal Antwerp and was also on loan in Portugal with Boavista, although he has been hampered by injuries of late.
Now back with Persepolis, the 30-year-old faces fierce competition for Team Melli’s No.1 shirt following the emergence of other viable options like Amir Abedzadeh, although he is still expected to be the Carlos Queiroz’s first choice in goal for a second straight World Cup. .
Salman Al-Faraj (Saudi Arabia)
One of Asia’s most gifted playmakers over the past decade, it’s a bit of a shame that Salman Al-Faraj has never plied his trade outside of Saudi Arabia – having spent his entire career with local heavyweights Al Hilal.
Always calm on the ball and with impeccable distribution, the 33-year-old can already claim to have scored at a World Cup after netting in his country’s win over Egypt at Russia 2018.
With Saudi Arabia facing tough tests against Argentina, Poland and Mexico in Qatar, where scoring chances are expected to be limited, Al-Faraj and his left-footed baton may well be their best bet for create openings.
Salem Al-Dawsari (Saudi Arabia)
After an Al-Faraj penalty fired level for Saudi Arabia against Egypt in the last World Cup, it was Salem Al-Dawsari whose clinical volley would seal a 2-1 win – only the country’s third in five tournament appearances.
Like Al-Faraj, Al-Dawsari has spent his entire career so far under contract with Al Hilal but was briefly loaned out to LaLiga side Villarreal, where his solitary appearance is memorable against Real Madrid as a substitute.
Now 31 and probably at the peak of his powers, the wide and lively striker has also proven to be one for the big stage – having inspired Al Hilal to AFC Champions League glory last season with a string of MVP wins – and there won’t be a greater opportunity for him to perform than in the weeks to come.
Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan)
Although Japanese football has no shortage of successful exports to Europe, there are only a handful that have made their mark in the Premier League, but one man who promises to change that is Takehiro Tomiyasu.
After two impressive seasons in Serie A with Bologna, the versatile defender moved to Arsenal at the start of last season and was quick to establish himself as a practical contributor.
While usually deployed at full scale for his club, Tomiyasu will line up alongside veteran captain Maya Yoshida at the heart of Samurai Blue’s defense and will also be tasked with initiating attacks with his composed cast at the back. .
Daichi Kamada (Japan)
With the Japanese squad consisting of four forwards with just ten international goals among them, there has been understandable concern over whether coach Hajime Moriyasu has enough firepower at his disposal – especially as they will face Germany and Spain.
Luckily for the Samurai Blue, they may not need a traditional striker given midfielder Daichi Kamada’s form so far this season.
The Eintracht Frankfurt man’s stellar start to the new campaign has already seen him score 12 goals in just 21 appearances in all competitions, and his dynamic style of play should certainly catch the eye of many neutral spectators in Qatar. .
Kim Min-Jae (South Korea)
The fact that Napoli have barely felt the departure of Kalidou Koulibaly – who has established himself as one of Serie A’s leading centre-backs in recent years – at Chelsea is largely down to their shrewd acquisition of Kim Min -Jae as his replacement. .
In only his second month in Italy, Kim was named Serie A Player of the Month in September and he will be eager to compete in the World Cup after missing the World Cup four years ago due to a wound.
Standing at 1.9m and built with a commanding physique, the 25-year-old will be more than capable of holding his own against Ronaldo and Luis Suarez – which should make for some tantalizing one-on-one duels.
Son Heung-Min (South Korea)
Of course, there is no greater footballer in the Asian game right now – or in the last five years for that matter – than South Korea captain Son Heung-Min.
A player who hardly needs introduction, Son arguably achieved world-class status last season when his 23 Premier League goals saw him win the competition’s Golden Boot alongside Mohamed Salah. .
The Tottenham man has however struggled with form so far this season and is currently an injury problem after suffering a broken face while on duty at the club, although he reiterated his determination to lead the South Koreans to the tournament – which should be good news. for anyone hoping to see a trademark Son Screamer in Qatar.