Kuala Lumpur: With vital clashes in the second round of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 looming later in the year, only three nations remain unscathed in their quest for a place in the third phase of the fight for a place in the Finals.
A perfect five wins from five games has marked Syria out not only as the leaders of Group A ahead of China PR but sees the West Asian nation stand tallest across the entirety of the qualifying phase with the best return to date.
Magical Moments: Ali Daei vs Korea Republic (1996 AFC Asian Cup)
Kuala Lumpur: There are certain football matches that, despite the ravages of time, are destined to be remembered by supporters no matter how many years have passed.
These permanent fixtures in a fan’s memory bank can be lodged there thanks to a glorious last-minute winner, a sterling come-from-behind victory or – in the case of Islamic Republic of Iran icon Ali Daei – a superb virtuoso display.
Midway through 1996 Daei, then aged 27, had only scored seven of his eventual 109 goals for his country, but the next six months would produce 22 international goals, including one of the greatest individual performances in the history of Asian football.
Kuala Lumpur: The birthplace of total football, and the country that launched the careers of some of the game’s most influential figures, the Netherlands is a country with a proud footballing tradition.
But while a long list of Dutch stars have become household names, the country also has a history of welcoming some of Asia’s outstanding players.
From 1980s pioneers like Huh Jung-moo and Fandi Ahmad to the stars of the modern game, the Eredivisie has played host to some of the continent’s best and brightest, making it a league of interest for generations of Asian fans.
Our list features several title winners and a league top goal scorer, but which of these icons deserves the title of Asia’s best?
Amiri’s remarkable journey from raw teen to Afghanistan icon
Kabul: For many, attending a relative's wedding is a pleasant experience. For Afghan international Zohib Islam Amiri, however, it was more than just a fond memory. His presence at a cousin's wedding a decade and half ago proved pivotal in kick-starting what has been an illustrious footballing career.
The time was March, 2005 when 15-year-old Amiri and his parents — then refugees in Pakistan — returned to the Afghanistan capital Kabul for a cousin's wedding. He was then an adoring fan of Manchester United rising star Cristiano Ronaldo, while his cousin was playing with local club Shoa FC.
Samara: February 2020 was a turning point in the life of stylish Iraqi midfielder Safaa Hadi. That was when the promising youngster signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara, becoming the first Iraqi to play in the Russian Premier League.
After starting out in youth football at the prestigious Ammo Baba Academy in Baghdad, Hadi got his first senior team experience with Amant Baghdad SC. He then moved between Al-Minaa SC, Al-Zawra'a SC and Al-Shorta SC before being called up to the Iraqi national team for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and subsequent Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 21-year-old discussed his move to Russia and the difficulties faced during his first professional assignment outside Iraq. He also expressed his firm desire to continue playing in the host nation of world football’s flagship event two years ago.