AFC Cup stars shine in International Break
Kuala Lumpur: The first two rounds of Asian Qualifiers took place over the last week with a number of players still vying for 2019 AFC Cup glory turning out for their respective countries as they started their bids to make the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
Lebanon's Al Ahed, Jordan's Al Jazeera, 4.25 SC of DPR Korea and Vietnam's Hanoi FC will resume their quest to taste Continental glory in two weeks' time. The-AFC.com looks at how their international stars fared for their nations in the opening rounds of the Asian Qualifiers.
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Seven of Al Ahed’s side got the call up for Lebanon in their opening Asian Qualifier in Pyongyang on September 5 and subsequent friendly match with Oman on September 10. However, it was to prove a disappointing series of matches for The Cedars after they suffered 2-0 and 1-0 defeats.
For the two ties, defender Nour Mansour was ever-present, playing the full 90 minutes, while forward Mohamad Haidar started both games but had a mixed experience in both: yellow carded against DPR Korea and subbed off on the hour-mark as they trailed Oman.
Al Ahed’s leading 2019 AFC Cup Cup scorer Mohamad Kdouh played a part in both matches as he came off the bench with six minutes remaining against the Koreans and played the full match against the Omanis.
Like Kdouh, winger Rabih Ataya made a cameo off the bench against DPR Korea, coming on in the 76th minute but was an unused substitute against Oman. By contrast, right-back Hussein El Zein did not feature against DPR Korea, but played 90 minutes against Oman.
Young midfielder Hussein Monzer and forward Ahmed Hejazi were in the Matchday squads for both ties but did not leave the bench.
Five of Al Jazeera's squad travelled east to face Chinese Taipei in the Jordanians' opening Group B fixture and it was Ahmed Samir Saleh who stole the headlines as he rifled home the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory on Thursday.
Also in the starting line-up were defender Feras Shilbaya and midfielder Khalil Baniateyah, while Noor Al Rawabdeh was introduced as a late substitute. However, imposing centre-back Yazan Al Arab was left on the bench.
On Tuesday, Jordan squandered a two-goal lead to lose 4-2 in a friendly against Paraguay in Amman, with Baniateyah, Shilbaya and Rawabdeh all starting, and Al Arab being brought on for the final 10 minutes.
Another of Al Jazeera's stars also shone during the international break as Islam Batran came off the bench to almost immediately head home Palestine's second in a stunning 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan in Group D with what was his third international goal since early August.
The attacking midfielder, who was again left on the bench until the hour mark in the surprise 2-1 defeat by Singapore on Tuesday, has yet to transfer his scoring form to the AFC Cup. But it’s fair to assume West Asia Zonal Final opponents Al Ahed will have marked him out as one to watch after his exploits with his national side.
AFC Cup Inter-Zone Finalists 4.25 SC had six players called up for the Asian Qualifiers against Lebanon and Sri Lanka. And, for the majority of those selected, it was to prove a successful brace of international fixtures for the men from the Pyongyang side as The Chollima chalked up two victories.
Goalkeeper An Tae-song kept two cleansheets in the 2-0 and 1-0 wins over the Lebanese and Sri Lanka sides respectively, while both defender Kim Chol-bom and midfielder Pak Myong-song played the full 180 minutes.
Left sided player Sim Hyon-jin also played a part in both matches as he made an early cameo off the bench at the half-hour mark against Lebanon, while he started and played 78 minutes against Sri Lanka. Midfielder Ri Hyong-jin played an hour against Lebanon but did not feature in the Matchday Two tie.
The one disappointment would have been for 4.25 SC's leading scorer in the 2019 AFC Cup, Kim Yu-song, who was an unused substitute against Lebanon and failed to make the Matchday squad in Colombo.
Six of the players who have helped Hanoi FC advance all the way to an AFC Cup Inter-Zone Final against 4.25 SC were selected by Park Hang-seo for Vietnam's opening Asian Qualifier against regional rivals Thailand.
An away date with the War Elephants was one of the toughest opening encounters the 2018 AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Cup winners could have been handed, so defender Do Duy Manh will be happy with his efforts after keeping forward-thinking players like Chanathip Songkrasin relatively quiet in a 0-0 stalemate.
Elsewhere, playmaker Nguyen Quang Hai also started, as did midfielder Do Hung Dung as an ever-proving Golden Stars side ensured their qualification journey began with a commendable point. And while Thailand may still be considered the Southeast Asian powerhouse, performances over the past two years suggest Vietnam are every bit their equal.
Defenders Tran Van Kien and Nguyen Thanh Chung, as well as right-sided midfielder Pham Duc Huy, were unused substitutes, while there was also a 15-minute cameo for the recently departed Doan Van Hau, who has joined Dutch club SC Heerenveen on loan and has only just returned from injury.
Vietnam played just one game over the international break and they will next host another regional rival, Malaysia, on October 10. Before that, Hanoi's six international stars will return to the Vietnamese capital with the aim of ousting 4.25 and advancing to a first-ever AFC Cup final.
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