5 who impressed during the international break
As teams step up their preparations for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, we look at those who stood out during the most recent round of international friendlies.
The international break saw as many as 11 fixtures bringing 2019 AFC Asian Cup participating sides head to head, while Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Japan and Korea Republic opted to face opponents from the Americas.
Non-qualified Asian teams including Kuwait, Malaysia, Laos and Indonesia were all in action too. Looking back at 10 days of international football, here are five players who impressed for their respective countries.
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Almoez Ali - Qatar
Two wins against fellow AFC Asian Cup qualified teams China PR and Palestine, four goals scored, and none conceded. The international break was as good as it gets for Qatar.
The attacking trio of Akram Afif, Hassan Al Haydos and Almoez Ali were at the heart of the Maroons impressive displays over the past 10 days, all three getting on the scoresheet. And while skipper Al Haydos celebrated his 100th cap and Afif was in top form, it was Ali who caught the eye over the 180 minutes.
The Al Duhail man got the only goal against China PR on Friday and needed just three minutes to put Qatar ahead against Palestine four days later.
Goals weren’t Ali’s only contribution either, as he was a constant menace for opposition defences, on and off the ball. His physicality and intelligent movement were on display, sending a clear warning to Saudi, Lebanese and Korean defenders who are set to face Qatar in four months’ time.
Kairat Zhyrgalbek - Kyrgyz Republic
AFC Asian Cup debutants-to-be Kyrgyz Republic were the surprise package of the international break, emerging from their two friendlies against Palestine and Syria with a draw and a win consecutively.
Kairat Zhyrgalbek was instrumental for the central Asian side’s attacking play as they completed two years without tasting defeat at home.
The winger’s pace and trickery unlocked Syrian defences as Kyrgyz Republic achieved a morale-boosting win against a team 20 places above them in the FIFA rankings. Zhyrgalbek put his side in front in the 76th minute after finding space down the right flank, dribbling past his marker and firing past goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma at his near post.
Five minutes later, the 25-year-old’s skills were on show again, this time he beat two opposition defenders on the right before squaring for Bekzhan Sagynbaev to sweep home the winner after Omar Al Somah had equalised for Syria.
Omar Al Somah - Syria
In a winless two-match central Asia trip, Al Somah was the standout performer as Syria snatched a draw against Uzbekistan and were beaten by Kyrgyz Republic.
In Tashkent, the 29-year-old striker cancelled out Marak Bikamev's opener with a looping header into the top corner to claim a late draw for Syria.
Four days later in Bishkek, Al Somah watched his beautifully curled effort from outside the box bounce off the upright in the first half before he equalised for the Eagles of Qasioun from the spot in the 81st minute.
Kyrgyz Republic would, however, score a late winner to come away with the win, but Al Somah's fifth and sixth international goals were enough to cement his status as the side's primary attacking weapon.
Nam Tae-hee - Korea Republic
Fresh off winning gold at the Asian Games, Son Heung-min was at the heart of everything Korea Republic did against Costa Rica and Chile, but the biggest winner of Paulo Bento’s first two games in charge of the Taeguk Warriors was Nam Tae-hee.
The Al Duhail playmaker was recalled to the national team after being dropped for the 2018 World Cup by Bento’s predecessor, Shin Tae-yong. Nam instantly demonstrated what the team was missing.
Deployed in his favourite number 10 role, the 27-year-old showed natural understanding with Son, the two of them swapping the central and left-sided position constantly to great effect.
Nam capped an impressive performance with one of the best goals of the international break. 12 minutes from time, he embarked on a slaloming run, leaving three Costa Rican defenders chasing shadows before finishing emphatically at the near post to seal a 2-0 win for Bento’s men.
Hajime Moriyasu - Japan
A new era for the Samurai Blue started brightly as Hajime Moriyasu's first match in charge of the Japan national team ended in a comfortable 3-0 home win over Costa Rica.
With starman Keisuke Honda and captain Makoto Hasebe retiring from international duty, and the new manager leaving out Shinji Kagawa and Maya Yoshida, it was time for a new generation to prove their worth and Moriyasu's largely home-based squad duly delivered.
Sho Sasaki's deflected header marked the first goal of Moriyasu's reign 16 minutes into the game, while Takumi Minamino and Junya Ito both got their first Japan goals in the second half.
Moriyasu handed a debut to 20-year-old Ritsu Doan and the Gamba Osaka product delivered an impressive performance at the club's Pansaonic Stadium Suita.
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