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Dhaka Tribune

Five to watch at Asian Cup

The Asian Cup kicks off Friday in Qatar, the start of a month-long tournament bringing together 24 teams and the biggest stars in the region

Update : 10 Jan 2024, 05:53 PM

The Asian Cup kicks off Friday in Qatar, the start of a month-long tournament bringing together 24 teams and the biggest stars in the region. We pick out five players to watch:

Son Heung-min (South Korea)

What more can be said about the South Korea and Tottenham Hotspur captain? The 31-year old is one of the best attackers in the Premier League and has consistently been the best player in Asia for the last five years. He had an underwhelming season last year with a poor Tottenham side but like the team as a whole has been reinvigorated under new Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou, who made him captain. Son also seems to enjoy playing under legendary German striker Jurgen Klinsmann for his country, scoring twice and setting up the other in an impressive 3-0 win in China in World Cup qualifying in November. He will hope to return to Qatar and make up for a difficult World Cup in 2022 by his standards - he failed to score in four appearances and was clearly affected by having to wear a mask for a fractured eye socket.

Kaoru Mitoma (Japan)

The winger was a virtual unknown to casual football fans until delivering a series of scintillating performances last season for Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League. A relatively late arrival to elite football, the 26-year old former university student joined Brighton in 2021 from Kawasaki Frontale but then went out on loan to Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium. Mitoma returned to Brighton in the summer of 2022 and found his feet in English football, since scoring 13 times and recording 14 assists in 65 appearances for his club. He made his debut for Japan just over two years ago and has made 18 appearances, scoring seven times, but goes into the Asian Cup with an ankle injury. Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said in naming his squad that Mitoma should be ready "early in the tournament", but he looks set to miss at least one game.

Kim Min-jae (South Korea)

Known as "Monster" because of his imposing physique, the Bayern Munich man is one of the best defenders around and a mainstay of the South Korean rearguard. The nickname does him a disservice in many ways - the elegant central defender is no slouch across the grass and is comfortable on the ball. The 27-year old has had a varied career, starting out in the K League before moving to China and then Turkey. Kim left Fenerbahce for Napoli in 2022 and duly became a key player and fan favorite in their run to the Serie A title. After one season in Italy, Kim was on the move again, this time to Bayern Munich in July 2023 for a reported fee of 50m euros. Now a regular for the serial German champions.

Salem Al Dawsari (Saudi Arabia)

Dawsari will have fond memories of Qatar after scoring one of the goals of the tournament at the 2022 World Cup. The attacker, who was named Asian Football Confederation player of the year in November, unleashed a right-footed thunderbolt as Saudi Arabia stunned eventual champions Argentina 2-1 in their opening game. The 32-year old has long been one of Asia's best players and is a stalwart for Saudi heavyweights Al Hilal. He also made one memorable appearance for Spain's Villarreal during a 2018 loan, helping his side come back from two goals down to claim a 2-2 draw with Real Madrid. During an Asian Champions League game against Uzbekistan's Navbahor in November he missed two penalties - before sealing a 2-0 win with a sublime lob. 

Mehdi Taremi (Iran) 

Iran have not won the Asian Cup since 1976 but the presence of Porto striker Taremi gives them their best chance of ending that drought. The 31-year old has scored goals by the hatful since joining the Portuguese giants in 2020 and he has a prolific record for his country as well, also averaging a goal every other game. Taremi has not always been an easy customer for coaches to deal with - he was dropped for two games in 2022 for criticizing then Iran boss Dragan Skocic. But his quality is beyond doubt and he is likely to form a razor-sharp striking partnership with Roma forward Sardar Azmoun. Taremi was close to signing for AC Milan in the summer and a strong Asian Cup could put him back in the shop window.

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