5 Asian FIFA World Cup Heroes
Kuala Lumpur: Over the years a number of Asian players have produced the goods at the FIFA World Cup, lighting up arenas around the globe and providing incredible moments that have gone down in the Continent’s footballing folklore.
With March's Asian Qualifiers postponed until later in the year, we turn back the clock to highlight the achievements of five Asian players who have shone brightest on the global showpiece.
You can tell us who you think is the best Asian player at the FIFA World Cup by voting at the bottom of the article. The winner will be chosen by a panel of experts combined with the results of the public vote.
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Park Ji-sung (Korea Republic)
Appearances: 2002, 2006, 2010
One of Korea Republic’s most successful and recognisable players of all time, Park Ji-sung first gained global recognition as a constant source of energy down the right at the 2002 FIFA World Cup hosted in the midfielder’s homeland.
The then 21-year-old’s finest individual moment came in the final Group D game against Portugal when, scoreless with 20 minutes to play, Park controlled Lee Young-pyo’s deep cross on his chest, took another touch and then half-volleyed under Vitor Baia to secure a stunning 1-0 win and a first-ever knockout round appearance.
Better was to come for Korea Republic as the East Asians eliminated Italy and Spain – with Park scoring in the penalty shootout against the latter – to become the first and, to date, only Asian team to reach the semi-finals, before ultimately losing to Germany.
Park went on to score in a 1-1 draw against France in the 2006 edition and again in a win over Greece in 2010, when the Taeguk Warriors qualified for the last 16 for the second time, with Park skippering the side in what was his final FIFA World Cup appearance.
Honourable mentions: Hong Myung-bo, Ahn Jung-hwan, Son Heung-min
Sami Al Jaber (Saudi Arabia)
Appearances: 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006
Arguably Saudi Arabia’s greatest player of all time, Sami Al Jaber featured in four FIFA World Cups between the West Asian country’s competition debut in 1994 and 2006.
The Al Hilal youngster’s early penalty set Saudi Arabia on the way to their maiden FIFA World Cup victory, against Morocco in USA 1994, before the Green Falcons defeated Belgium to advance at the first time of asking.
Saudi Arabia were beaten by Sweden in the last 16 but returned at France 1998, when Al Jaber was again on target from the spot, this time in a 2-2 draw against South Africa. But a miserable 2002 followed with Al Jaber’s campaign curtailed by a burst appendix after the opening game and his side exiting after three defeats.
The striker scored his third and final FIFA World Cup goal in a 2-2 draw against Tunisia at the 2006 edition with what was his last goal for his country. He remains the Green Falcons' leading scorer at the FIFA World Cup.
Honourable mentions: Mohamed Al Deayea, Saeed Al Owairan, Salem Al Dawsari
Tim Cahill (Australia)
Appearances: 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018
With Australia a goal down against the Netherlands in Porto Alegre at Brazil 2014, Tim Cahill produced a goal of the tournament contender by volleying Ryan McGowan’s long ball over the top past Jasper Cillessen to follow up his opening-day strike against Chile.
That spectacular effort was undoubtedly Cahill’s best of his five FIFA World Cup goals but – as the Socceroos lost all three of their games – it was not his greatest contribution: that came eight years earlier in Australia’s first appearance since 1974.
Trailing 1-0 against Japan, Cahill came off the bench to turn the game on its head. The then Everton man levelled in the 84th minute with the Green and Gold's first-ever FIFA World Cup goal, then put his side 2-1 up with a fabulous effort from distance as the Socceroos ultimately claimed a 3-1 win.
Australia went on to reach the last 16 before falling to Italy while Cahill, in addition to his goals in 2014, netted in a 2-1 win over Serbia in 2010 and made a fourth and final – albeit fleeting – appearance at the 2018 edition in Russia.
Honourable mentions: Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano, Mile Jedinak
*Note: Australia played the 2006 FIFA World Cup as part of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)
Keisuke Honda (Japan)
Appearances: 2010, 2014, 2018
If Hidetoshi Nakata was the first global star of Japanese football, Keisuke Honda has arguably been the greatest Samurai Blue performer at the FIFA World Cup after he burst onto the scene at the 2010 edition.
Honda marked his first World Cup appearance by netting the only goal in a 1-0 win over Cameroon before his spectacular long-range free-kick set Japan on their way to a 3-1 victory against Denmark and a place in the last 16 – the first time they had managed the feat outside of their homeland.
The East Asians disappointed as they exited at the group stage in 2014 but the attacking midfielder was on the mark again, putting his side in front with a screamer in their tournament opener against Cote d’Ivoire. Japan returned at Russia 2018, where Honda would score in his third successive World Cup.
Brought off the bench in the second game against Senegal, Honda tapped home to make it 2-2 with a goal that ultimately helped seal qualification to the next round. The Samurai Blue exited after an exhilarating 3-2 loss against Belgium in what will likely remain Honda’s last appearance in the competition.
Honourable mentions: Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto, Yuto Nagatomo
Alireza Beiranvand (IR Iran)
Carlos Queiroz’s Islamic Republic of Iran may have exited at the 2018 group stage, but it’s hard to argue the tournament wasn’t a success for Team Melli, while it’s equally difficult to contest that goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand wasn’t their star man.
The Persepolis shot-stopper shone as Iran edged past Morocco 1-0 in their opener and he then produced another string of excellent saves in a narrow 1-0 loss to Spain, when only a fortuitous Diego Costa goal got the better of the big custodian.
A goal down in their third game against Portugal, Iran conceded a penalty to hand Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to all but seal a place in the next round. In a moment Beiranvand would later describe as the biggest of his life, he dived to his left to deny one of the greatest players of all time and keep his country’s hopes alive.
Karim Ansarifard levelled in stoppage time before Mehdi Taremi missed a glorious chance to seal qualification to the Round of 16 for the first time. It was not to be for the Iranians, but Beiranvand departed Russia having left his mark on the world stage.
Honourable mentions: Mehdi Mahdavikia, Ali Daei, Hamid Estili
Now you've read up on our five Asians who have left their mark at the FIFA World Cup, tell us who is your favourite by voting below (Poll ends at 1800 (UTC 8) on April 15).
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