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Azmoun, Son, Mabkhout and more: Vote for your Asian Qualifiers Player of the Month

Kuala Lumpur: For some, it was the month the Road to Qatar 2022 became decidedly precarious, and the continent’s star players pulled out all of the stops to keep their teams on track.

Some of Asia’s biggest names produced the heroics required to keep their respective nations’ FIFA World Cup dreams alive, and they were joined by new faces eager to leave a mark of their own.

An elite 12 teams remain in contention for a place at next year’s global showpiece, but which player played the biggest role in shaping their side’s destiny? Who was the outstanding player in Asia’s momentous month?

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Mahmoud Al Mawas (Syria)
3 games (229 minutes): 4 goals, 4 shot assists

With his freshly bleached hair, Mahmoud Al Mawas was always determined to stand out as Syria sought to confirm their place in the final round of the Asian Qualifiers. Scoring a hat -rick in his side’s 4-0 win over the Maldives certainly helped his cause as he filled the void left by injured star striker Omar Al Somah.

A pair of penalties either side of a close-range effort gave the Syrians a comfortable win as they resumed their second round commitments, and he was equally influential in the 3-0 win over Guam that guaranteed their progress, as Al Mawas came off the bench to score and take his tally to four goals.

Wu Lei (China PR)
4 games (289 minutes): 5 goals, 2 assists

Either side of the 18-month pause in the second round of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Wu Lei was instrumental in his nation confirming their progress to the final round. Three goals before the break and another five in the final four games highlights his attacking prowess.

But the Espanyol forward showed how much his game has improved since his move to Spain when China PR’s campaign resumed in late May, not only finding the back of the net with regularity but forging a strong bond with Ai Kesen that promises to punish opposition defences in the next phase of qualifying.

Harry Souttar (Australia)
3 games (270 minutes): 2 goals, 86% aerial duels won

It was very much a team effort as Australia defied a long period of inactivity and challenging conditions to win every match in Kuwait City but, when choosing a standout player from the squad, it’s difficult to look beyond their match-winning defender Harry Souttar.

The towering Stoke City man had burst onto the scene with four goals in two qualifiers before the pandemic struck, and Australia’s Group B opponents still hadn’t devised a way of stopping him 16 months later, with headed goals against Chinese Taipei and Jordan – coupled with airtight defensive displays – making him Australia’s man of the hour.

Sardar Azmoun (IR Iran)
3 games (226 minutes): 3 goals, 8 shots

Team Melli arrived In Bahrain with four Group C matches remaining and their Qatar 2022 hopes very much in the balance. Had their fans known Sardar Azmoun would show up in such blistering form they mightn’t have worried.

The Zenit star was simply electric for Dragan Skočić’s side, scoring twice in the crucial win against Bahrain before netting the decisive goal against Iraq which sent the Iranians to the top of the group, taking his international tally to an exceptional 37 goals in 55 matches in the process.

Salem Al Dawsari (Saudi Arabia)
3 games (270 minutes): 2 goals, 4 shot assists

When Salem Al Dawsari plays well, so do Saudi Arabia. That much was made obvious throughout the Asian Qualifiers campaign. The Green Falcons’ disappointing form before the pandemic saw them draw two of their three matches as Al Dawsari scored just once, but it was a completely different story after the restart.

The 29-year-old Saudi Arabia vice-captain led by example, getting on the scoresheet in every single match ,apart from the final game against Uzbekistan for which he was suspended, as Herve Renard’s men romped to four wins in 2021, putting 14 goals past their opponents and conceding none.

Abdullah Fawaz (Oman)
2 games (142 minutes): 2 goals, 88% pass accuracy

No player stood out for Oman like Abdullah Fawaz. The 24-year-old midfielder featured twice for Al Ahmar in their 1-0 defeat to Qatar and 2-1 victory over Afghanistan in Group E, and it was his heroics against the Central Asian side that announced his arrival on the international stage in his second appearance in Oman colours.

Oman took the lead through Fawaz’s long-range effort in the 14th minute, but his goal was cancelled out by Afghanistan’s Omid Popalzay nine minutes later, before he came to Oman’s rescue by beating goalkeeper Ovays Azizi from outside the box.

Takumi Minamino (Japan)
2 games (141 minutes): 3 goals, 2 assists

Japan had few problems in Group F as they breezed through in style, and it was Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino who stole the headlines as he equaled Keisuke Honda's record of scoring in seven successive Asian Qualifiers with goals against Myanmar and Tajikistan.

Minamino opened the scoring with a well-taken goal in the 10-0 win over Myanmar and added a second after the interval before a darting run to the near post and neat finish put Japan 2-1 up against Tajikistan. He was not given the chance to beat Honda's record, though, as sat out his country's final game against Kyrgyz Repiblic, but three goals and two assists was a fine return for just 141 minutes of action.

Ali Mabkhout (UAE)
4 games (353 minutes): 5 goals, 1 assist

Perhaps no team in the Asian Qualifiers can lay claim to having a more prolific goal scorer than the United Arab Emirates’ Ali Mabkhout. The 30-year-old continued to break records left, right and centre as he topped the Qualifiers’ scoring charts with 11 goals, five of which came in the four games after the resumption of the action earlier this month.

In the process, Mabkhout leapfrogged Lionel Messi and Sunil Chhetri to become the second highest active international scorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo. His 76 goals in 92 caps brought him into the top 10 international scorers of all time, and he will have the chance to climb as high as fifth on that list should he get four more goals in the final round of the Asian Qualifiers.

Son Heung-min (Korea Republic)
2 games (180 minutes): 1 goal, 1 assist, 11 shot assists

Korea Republic's biggest star was back playing in his homeland for the first time since late 2019 to help the Taeguk Warriors round off their Asian Qualifiers Group H campaign with a perfect three wins from three. And he didn't disappoint as reminded the fans at Goyang Stadium of exactly what they've been missing.

A match-winning penalty followed an assist in a 2-1 win over Lebanon which ended Son's 20-month goal drought for his country but what came a game earlier against Turkmenistan was even better. Receiving the ball just inside the Turkmen half, Son bamboozled two defenders by nonchalantly flicking it over them before bursting forward and feeding Kwon Chang-hoon, who centred for Hwang Ui-jo to flick home one of the goals of the round.

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