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5 Asian football stars who dazzled at the World Cup

5 Asian football stars who dazzled at the World Cup

Saudi Arabia winger Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during their World Cup match against Argentina at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov 22, 2022. (File photo: AP/Ricardo Mazalan)

SINGAPORE: With South Korea's 4-1 loss to Brazil, all sides from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have been eliminated from the World Cup in Qatar.

But that was not before they provided some of the tournament's biggest moments and delivered the region's best-ever performance on the world stage.

Here are five players who stood out in their countries' campaigns.

Salem Al-Dawsari, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia winger Salem Al-Dawsari scores his side's second goal during their World Cup game against Argentina at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Nov 22, 2022. (File photo: AP/Luca Bruno)

After an opening-day defeat for Qatar against Ecuador and a 6-2 hammering for Iran at the hands of England, things were not looking promising for Saudi Arabia when they lined up to face South American giants Argentina.

Lionel Messi duly put the two-time world champions ahead with an early penalty, and in the 27th minute, Lautaro Martinez appeared to have doubled their lead.

For a moment, it seemed like the match would be reduced to a matter of how many goals Argentina could score. But things can change very quickly in football.

Martinez's goal was disallowed by VAR, and just after half-time, Saleh Al-Shehri snuck the ball past Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from a difficult angle to draw the Saudis level.

And so the stage was set for Salem Al-Dawsari.

Controlling the ball smartly on the edge of the box in the 53rd minute, the Al-Hilal winger dazzled the Argentinian defence with his footwork before unleashing a strike goalward.

Emiliano Martinez got a hand to the ball, but could not stop it from finding the back of the net.

Al-Dawsari sprinted off, celebrating the goal with a cartwheel and a backflip to cap off one of the World Cup's most jaw-dropping moments.

Saudi Arabia's 2-1 win set the stage for what would turn out to be a tournament of upsets, as their fans marched on with the rallying cry: "Where is Messi?"

Unfortunately for the Green Falcons, this would be the high point of their campaign. They exited the tournament in the group stage after a 2-0 loss to Poland and a 2-1 loss to Mexico.

Al-Dawsari, however, added to his tally with the consolation goal in the final fixture – a goal that ended Mexico's hopes of surviving the group.  

Video: Saudi Arabia win 2-1 against Argentina

Video not visible outside of Singapore due to limited rights.

Ritsu Doan, Japan

Japan midfielder Ritsu Doan celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during their World Cup match against Germany at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Nov 23, 2022. (File photo: AFP/Jewel Samad)

Many Japanese players had their moments at this World Cup.

Despite being somewhat culpable for goals scored by Germany and Costa Rica, goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda also supplied heroics when called upon, memorably saving four shots on goal within about 20 seconds against the Germans.

There was Takuma Asano, who lashed the winner past Manuel Neuer's near post in what was perhaps the moment that made Samurai Blue fans realise this team was something special.

There was Daizen Maeda, who was a constant thorn in the side for opposing defences, and was finally rewarded with a goal against Croatia.

And, of course, no one will forget Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma proving that seeing sometimes isn't believing as they combined to complete Japan's comeback against Spain and send them into the round of 16 as group winners.

But if one player's contributions mattered most, they were those of Ritsu Doan, who netted the equalisers against both Germany and Spain – against Germany, a simple tap-in, and against Spain, a strike lashed in with too much venom for goalkeeper Unai Simon to handle.

The two goals were building blocks for Japan's campaign. And the Freiburg winger even had a hand in Tanaka's goal, providing the cross that appeared to go out of play until VAR showed otherwise.

He was also involved in Maeda's opener against Croatia, as Japan edged towards the quarter-finals.

But it was not to be, as an Ivan Perisic equaliser sent the tie into extra time and eventually penalties, where Japan fell 3-1.

Video: Japan 2-1 win against Spain 

Video not visible outside of Singapore due to limited rights.

Mehdi Taremi, Iran

Iran forward Mehdi Taremi applauds at the end of his side's World Cup match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on Nov 25, 2022. (File photo: AFP/Giuseppe Cacace)

Iran did have a couple of good moments against England, and they were both provided by striker Mehdi Taremi.

The Porto man smashed one goal past Jordan Pickford to make it 4-1, and later won and converted a penalty late in added time to lend a little more respectability to the scoreline.

He would be in the thick of things again against Wales.

Needing at least a draw to avoid crashing out of the World Cup after two matches, Iran came out with guns blazing.

They had a goal disallowed in the 15th minute, and early in the second half saw two efforts clatter off the posts of the Welsh goal within about 10 seconds. 

As the game looked to be fizzling out into a goalless draw, Taremi made a threatening run onto a long ball forward that drew out Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

Hennessey floored Taremi dangerously and became the first player sent off at this year's World Cup.

Taremi, fortunately, did not look worse for wear, and in injury time, Iran seized their opportunity.

Rouzbeh Cheshmi struck first in the eighth minute of added time, putting Iran 1-0 up with a thunderous effort from outside the box.

And then there was Taremi again.

In the 11th minute of added time, he picked up the ball inside his own half to start a counterattack against the undermanned Welsh and ran with it before offloading it to Ramin Rezaeian.

Rezaeian calmly dinked the ball over substitute goalkeeper Danny Ward to seal the victory.

Iran ultimately missed out on qualification for the round of 16 after a 1-0 loss against the United States, but finished a creditable third in their group.

Video: Iran beat Wales 2-0 with last-gasp goals

Video not visible outside of Singapore due to limited rights.

Mathew Leckie, Australia

Australia forward Mathew Leckie celebrates after scoring during his side's World Cup match against Denmark at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar, on Nov 30, 2022. (File photo: AFP/Chandan Khanna)

Expectations have generally been low for Australia at World Cups since their golden generation of 2006. And indeed, they arrived in Qatar on the back of three consecutive group-stage exits and just one win since 2010.

Their opening 4-1 loss to France did not inspire much hope that this year would be any different, but the tie did start with a moment of joy for them as they took the lead with a strike from Craig Goodwin.

The cross to Goodwin was supplied by Mathew Leckie, and the Melbourne City forward would soon find himself at the centre of Australia's journey.

A hard-fought win against Tunisia put Australia in a great position to make it to the round of 16, but with the North African side leading 1-0 against France with an hour gone in the final group games, the Socceroos were on their way out on goal difference as they sat deadlocked with Denmark.

Up stepped Leckie.

Racing forward from well inside his own half, he latched on to a long ball from Riley McGree and bamboozled Joakim Maehle before sliding the ball past Kasper Schmeichel.

Australia made it to the round of 16 for just the second time in their history, where they put up a spirited fight against Argentina in a 2-1 loss.

Video: Australia shock Denmark 1-0

Video not visible outside of Singapore due to limited rights.

Son Heung-min, South Korea

South Korea forward Son Heung-min celebrates at the end of their World Cup match against Portugal on Dec 2, 2022 at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, Qatar. (File photo: AFP/Odd Andersen)

He might not have appeared on the scoresheet in Qatar, but South Korean captain Son Heung-min played a key supporting role from behind his protective face mask.

In South Korea's agonising 3-2 loss to Ghana, he was involved in both of Cho Gue-sung's goals as his side briefly drew level from two goals down.

Down 1-0 to Portugal in a do-or-die final group game, South Korea gave themselves hope in the 27th minute as Kim Young-gwon capitalised on a Cristiano Ronaldo error to draw them level.

A draw would not have been enough, but as the clocked ticked past the 90-minute mark, Son delivered the kind of magic that has seen him cement his place as one of the Premier League's biggest stars.

Starting a run from just outside his own penalty area after a Portugal corner, Son collected the ball and launched a counterattack that saw him take on three defenders.

He then threaded the ball through the backline and found a charging Hwang Hee-chan who blasted South Korea into the last 16.

It was almost as close as they come, with South Korea progressing on goals scored after they finished level on points and goal difference with Uruguay.

Their progression meant that Asia would have three teams in the knockout stage of a World Cup for the first time.

A round of 16 clash with Brazil would, unsurprisingly, prove to be a bridge too far for Son and his side, as the favourites turned the tie into a dance party.

But South Korea would at least have the final word as Paik Seung-ho thumped the ball home from distance in the 76th minute.

And with that, a memorable outing for Asian football came to an end.

Video: South Korea beat Portugal 2-1

Video not visible outside of Singapore due to limited rights.

Catch free highlights and moments from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at mewatch.sg/fifaworldcup.
Source: CNA/kg/zl

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