Kuala Lumpur: With international football on hiatus until later in 2020, the-AFC.com looks back at some of Asia's greatest performers at the FIFA World Cup and asks you, the fans, to vote for the Best XI.
To select the candidates for each position, we have reflected on match data from FIFA World Cups dating all the way back to 1966 and presented a statistics-based approach to highlight the players who have shone brightest on the biggest stage of all.
We start our series of articles with the three candidates in contention for the all-important number one jersey. With a combined 11 FIFA World Cup editions between them, the trio boast a wealth of experience at the global showpiece. So, review the nominees and then choose your favourite goalkeeper to helm the rearguard for this all-star XI in the poll below.
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Mohammed Al Deayea – Saudi Arabia (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006)
- 10 appearances, 1 clean sheet
- 55 saves (#2 among Asian goalkeepers at the FIFA World Cup)
- 68% save percentage
Saudi Arabia's most capped player of all time and the second most capped player in the men's game with an incredible 178 appearances, Mohammed Al Deayea was a key part of a golden generation which reached four successive FIFA World Cups and won the 1996 AFC Asian Cup. The goalkeeper, who won the 1989 FIFA U-16 World Cup in Scotland, would be entrusted with the Number 1 jersey by coach Jorge Solari as a 22-year on the biggest stage of all just five years later.
The West Asians were a largely unknown quantity outside Asian footballing circles when they debuted at USA 94, but they generated global headlines in defeating Belgium 1-0 to advance to the last 16 at the first time of asking. Elimination at the hands of Sweden followed but the tournament remains Saudi Arabia's best and Al Deayea's finest in terms of goals conceded (six in four games and his solitary clean sheet).
A clash against hosts and eventual champions France at a packed Stade de France four years later thrust Al Deayea and his teammates into the spotlight again but, reduced to 10 men early on, it was an uphill struggle. The 'keeper managed to keep the French at bay until eight minutes before half-time before Les Bleus ran out 4-0 winners. A 2-2 draw against South Africa, in which the Gulf nation conceded a stoppage-time penalty, proved their only point of the campaign.
By the time 2002 came round, Al Deayea was captain of his country but the first World Cup on Asian soil would prove their worst, an 8-0 loss against Germany in Sapporo the low point of a tournament that reaped no points and no goals. Four years later at Germany 2006, the goalkeeper was again selected in his country's squad but was no longer first choice, remaining on the bench as the Green Falcons picked up one point from three games to exit at the first hurdle.
Lee Woon-jae – Korea Republic (1994, 2002, 2006, 2010)
- 11 appearances, 10 goals conceded
- 3 clean sheets (Joint #1 among Asian goalkeepers)
- 76% save percentage
Third in Korea Republic's all-time appearance list, Lee Woon-jae was part of four FIFA World Cup squads and it could even have been five had illness not ruled him out of France 1998. While there was no game time as a 21-year-old at USA 94, the experience may well have proved an invaluable one as a resilient Korea picked up two points from a tough group that featured Germany, Spain and Bolivia.
Eight years later on home soil gave the Cheongju native the chance to shine when, under the guidance of Dutch tactician Guus Hiddink, the Taeguk Warriors produced a miraculous campaign. Lee kept clean sheets in group stage victories against Poland and Portugal to help the Koreans advance to the knockout rounds for the first time as World Cup fever gripped the East Asian nation.
A stunning extra-time save from point-blank range denied Gennaro Gattuso in the last 16 against Italy and just minutes later Ahn Jung-hwan headed home the winner to stun the Italians. More heroics were to follow as Lee, after keeping his third clean sheet in the quarter-final against Spain, saved from Joaquin in the shootout to allow Hong Myung-bo to slot home the winner and, while Germany proved a step too far in the semi-finals, the co-hosts had written their name into World Cup folklore.
Captain in 2006, Lee and his teammates could count themselves unlucky in Germany, as defeat to Switzerland in their final group game saw them exit having picked up a win over Togo and a commendable draw against France. The loss against the Swiss would be his final appearance between the sticks at a World Cup because, despite being called up for South Africa in 2010 – a tournament in which Korea made the last 16 – he was no longer first choice.
After picking up 133 caps, the custodian retired from international football soon after.
Eiji Kawashima – Japan (2010, 2014, 2018)
- 11 appearances, 15 goals conceded
- 3 clean sheets (Joint #1 among Asian goalkeepers)
- 71% save percentage
While 2010 signalled the end of Lee Woon-jae's World Cup career, it marked the beginning for Japanese custodian Eiji Kawashima, and a clean sheet in his maiden appearance – a 1-0 victory over Cameroon in Bloemfontain – was the perfect start. Japan would go on to reach the last 16 for the second time, with their goalkeeper recording another shutout in a 0-0 draw against Paraguay, but he was unable to thwart the South Americans from the spot as the East Asians exited on penalties.
The Samurai Blue went into Brazil 2014 with plenty expected of them yet it would prove an unremarkable campaign. Another shutout in a goalless draw against Greece saw Kawashima tie Lee's record of three clean sheets at a World Cup, but that point was sandwiched in between disappointing defeats to Cote d'Ivoire and Colombia as the Japanese exited having finished bottom of their group.
Managerial upheaval prior to the 2018 edition meant few tipped Japan to perform in Russia but, under Akira Nishino, they came up with some memorable performances and perhaps should have advanced to the last eight for the first time. In his third successive World Cup, meanwhile, Kawashima experienced both ups and downs, producing some shot-stopping of the highest quality but also conceding when he should have done better.
Defeat to Colombia four years earlier was avenged as Japan opened with a 2-1 win in Saransk before a point against Senegal and a 1-0 loss to Poland ultimately saw them edge through to the next round. There, they played their part in arguably the most entertaining game of the tournament, but it ended in heartbreak as Japan surrendered a two-goal lead against Belgium to lose 3-2 at the death, with Kawashima at fault for the Belgians' first.
Now 37, Kawashima remains part of Japan's international set-up and may still be eyeing a World Cup swansong at Qatar 2022.
Now that you've read up on our three goalkeepers, vote for your favourite in the poll and secure them a place in Asia's Best XI at the FIFA World Cup. Poll ends at 1600 (UTC 8) on June 16.
The Best XI chosen by fans and the Best XI based on the statistics will be announced in early July.
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