5 Asian players who left their mark at the World Cup
The FIFA World Cup is an occasion in which players can turn into heroes for their nations, writing their names in the history books for decades. Here are five Asian players who have done just that over the years.
Leading from the back or scoring memorable goals at the grandest of stages, these 5 players set the bar high for Asian players as five Asian countries head to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
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1. Sami Al Jaber - Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia open the 2018 FIFA World Cup against the hosts Russia on June 14, exactly 12 years to the day Sami Al Jaber scored the Green Falcons’ last goal in the competition. In netting the second goal against Tunisia at Munich’s Allianz Arena, Al Jaber became the first Asian player to score in three editions of the World Cup.
Al Jaber’s left footed strike into the bottom corner was the last of his 46 international goals, a tally that included the winning goal against Morocco in 1994; a goal that earned the three-time Asian champions their first ever World Cup win. The 2-1 victory took Saudi Arabia to the round of 16 on their debut on the global stage.
Four years later, Al Jaber was on target again, and once more it was against an African side as Saudi Arabia played out a 2-2 draw with South Africa in the French city of Bordeaux. No other Saudi player has played in more World Cups than Al Jaber’s four; a record that is destined to last for a long time to come.
2. Tim Cahill - Australia
Al Jaber’s record of being the only Asian player to net at three World Cups lasted all of eight years until it was matched by another legend of Asian football.
Two days before Al Jaber’s last World Cup goal, Australia’s Tim Cahill netted his first. Capitalising on a loose ball inside the box, the then 26-year-old drove home the nation’s first-ever World Cup goal, before adding another five minutes later en route to a 3-1 victory over Japan.
Despite a red card in the opening game against Germany, which led him to miss Australia’s second game against Ghana, Cahill still had time to write his name on the 2010 World Cup’s scorers sheet with a trademark header against Serbia.
Brazil 2014 saw Cahill became the highest Asian scorer in the competition’s history as he added two more goals, including one of the best goals in the tournament; a wonderful left-footed volley in the 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands.
Part of the Socceroos’ squad for Russia 2018, the 38-year-old could still get the chance to cement his status as one of the continent’s all-time World Cup greats.
3. Mehdi Mahdavikia - Islamic Republic of Iran
When it comes to Iranian milestones at the FIFA World Cup, it's hard to look beyond the famous match against the USA at the 1998 edition. Hamid Estili's opener was iconic, but the man who secured the famous victory was the exciting speedster Mehdi Mahdavikia.
With Iran holding a slender 1-0 with just under 10 minutes remaining, the ball was played out wide to Mahdavikia, who had found space on the left touchline. Mahdavikia powered his way into the box and produced a fine finish to beat Kasey Keller and put Iran 2-0 ahead. While Brian McBride was able to pull one back for the USA, Mahdavikia’s goal was enough to secure Iran their first, and so far only, win at the FIFA World Cup.
The Iranian went on to have a hugely successful career in the Bundesliga for Hamburger SV and was named AFC Player of the Year in 2003.
4. Hong Myung-bo - Korea Republic
The captain of the first, and to date only, Asian side to reach the World Cup semi-finals, Hong Myung-bo is arguably the finest defender the continent has ever produced.
By the time he retired in 2002, Hong had amassed 135 caps for Korea Republic. His qualities were not limited to being a solid defender, as his attacking contributions were of great importance to Korea Republic in his four World Cup appearances.
After featuring in Italia 1990, the defender scored and assisted as the Taeguk Warriors came from 2-0 down to draw Spain 2-2 in USA 1994, and he took his World Cup appearances total to nine games by the end of the 1998 edition.
As he approached his twilight years, a 33-year-old Hong led by example as Korea Republic stunned Italy and Spain en route to reaching the 2002 World Cup on home soil. The skipper remained calm as he delivered the decisive penalty for Korea Republic to eliminate Spain from the competition’s quarter-final on penalty shootouts.
5. Junichi Inamoto - Japan
In 2002, the World Cup came to Asia as Japan and Korea Republic hosted the global event, and it was time for the two nations to showcase their national teams made.
Japan had only qualified to the finals once before, in 1998, where they failed to collect a single point. But on home soil, things were different, and Junichi Inamoto demonstrated this by scoring against Belgium in Saitama to earn the Samurai Blue their first-ever World Cup point with a 2-2 draw.
Next up was Russia and Japan went a step further collecting the three points in Yokohama. Once again, Inamoto was the star man as he found space inside the Russian penalty are to score the winner.
The midfielder went on to represent the country in the 2006 and 2010 editions, making a total of eight World Cup appearances, a tally bettered only by Hidetoshi Nakata’s ten. In 2014, Keisuke Honda joined Inamoto in becoming the only Japanese players to score more than one goal at a single World Cup campaign.
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