Kuala Lumpur: It was the busiest international window in Asia since 2019 and players from across the continent turned on the style in Asian Qualifiers and friendlies alike.
There were hat-tricks, heroics and heart-warming farewells, but which player was Asia’s best of the best in the March international window?
From matches in Dubai, Dushanbe, Debrecen and more, we’ve picked 10 of the week’s best performers. Study our shortlist and don’t forget to register your vote.
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Ali Mabkhout (United Arab Emirates)
1 game (78 minutes), 3 goals, 1 assist (6-0 v India)
The UAE’s goal scorer extraordinaire just keeps delivering on the international stage, showing his class once again with a superb treble against India on Monday, with a sumptuous lob the pick of the bunch.
Still only 30 years old, Mabkhout has now scored 68 goals in 87 senior appearances for his national team and has scored a remarkable four hat-tricks in his last nine matches for club and country.
Mohammed Muntari (Qatar)
3 games, 2 goals, 90% pass accuracy (1-0 v Luxembourg, 2-1 v Azerbaijan, 1-1 v Ireland)
Who was the best team in Europe this week? Italy, England or Turkey might be among the more popular suggestions, but Asian champions Qatar can also count themselves among the most impressive sides on European soil after an outstanding opening to their guest appearance in UEFA's FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
Playing a starring role was Al Duhail forward Mohammed Muntari, who scored the winner against Luxembourg before adding a superb equaliser against Ireland on Tuesday, taking his all-time tally to 10 goals for the Maroons.
Yuya Osako (Japan)
2 games, 3 goals, 3 assists (3-0 v Korea Republic, 14-0 v Mongolia)
It was an exceptionally fruitful trip home for Werder Bremen’s Yuya Osako, who played a starring role in two big wins in the space of five days for Hajime Moriyasu’s team.
A 78-minute appearance against Korea Republic included two assists, before he bagged a maiden international hat-trick, plus another assist, in Tuesday’s overwhelming win over Mongolia. That makes eight goals in his last 11 international outings.
Sardar Azmoun (IR Iran)
1 game (78 minutes), 1 goal, 2 shot assists (3-0 v Syria)
Such is the wealth of attacking talent available to IR Iran boss Dragan Skočić that whoever does earn selection in the starting line-up these days is almost expected to score goals.
Sardar Azmoun lived up to his end of that bargain this week, getting himself into the right place at the right time to slide home his 34th international goal; a strike which takes him a step closer to the top three on Team Melli's all-time scorer's list.
Saleh Al Shehri (Saudi Arabia)
2 games, 2 goals, 89% pass accuracy (1-0 v Kuwait, 5-0 v Palestine)
Six goals scored, none conceded and three more points on the board in their Asian Qualifiers group, Saudi Arabia will have few complaints about their week on home soil, in which Saleh Al Shehri was among the standout players.
The Al Hilal man was voted Player of the Match in Tuesday’s 5-0 Asian Qualifiers win over Palestine, scoring twice on the night to take his Green Falcons tally to three goals in four outings.
Alaa Ali Mhawi (Iraq) 1 game (90 minutes), 8 interceptions, 15 recoveries (1-0 v Uzbekistan)
Few players at Tashkent’s Bunyodkor Stadium had a more difficult job on Monday than Alaa Ali Mhwai – who was tasked with keeping an eye on Jaloliddin Masharipov – but then again, even the great Neymar has found life difficult against Iraq’s impressive right-back.
Not only did he make a significant contribution to Iraq’s excellent defensive effort, Mhwai also played a major role in the game’s only goal. It was his long-range shot which was spilled at the feet of Sherko Karim for the 56th-minute winner.
Mohamed Marhoon (Bahrain) 2 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 penalties won (3-1 v Syria, 1-2 v Jordan)
Bahrain certainly have an exciting young player in Mohamed Marhoon. The 23-year-old was involved in all four of his team’s goals this week, scoring one himself and playing the decisive role in setting up the other three
While his excellent all-round display meant he stood out for the majority of the match against Syria, his contribution against Jordan came despite spending just 35 minutes on the pitch - enough time to win the penalty which was converted by Mohammed Al Romaihi.
Musa Al Taamari (Jordan)
2 games, 1 goal, 1 secondary assist (1-0 v Lebanon, 2-1 v Bahrain)
The most prominent of the current crop of Jordanian footballers continues to show his importance to the national team, finding the net with a superb finish to help secure a 1-0 win against Lebanon last Wednesday.
He followed that performance up with another impressive display against Bahrain, as Jordan ensured they will enter June’s remaining Asian Qualifiers with plenty of momentum.
Alisher Dzhalilov (Tajikistan)
1 game (90 minutes), 1 goal (3-0 v Mongolia)
Like any number of matches in Dushanbe in recent years, last Thursday’s Asian Qualifiers clash between Tajikistan and Mongolia was a tale of two Dzhalilovs, with cousins Alisher and Manuchehr running the show for Usmon Toshev’s side.
Both scored, but Alisher’s tidy second-half volley and Player of the Match performance earns him selection in our list of nominees. The Istiklol star has already scored in two international fixtures in 2021.
Kiran Chemjong (Nepal)
3 games, 1 goal conceded, 2 clean sheets (0-0 v Kyrgyz Republic U23, 0-0 v Bangladesh, 2-1 v Bangladesh)
Nepal came into this week’s international window having not scored an international goal since 2019, but ended it with a confidence-boosting win and a piece of silverware, lifting the Three Nations Cup with a 2-1 victory against Bangladesh in Kathmandu.
At the heart of the triumph was goalkeeper and skipper Kiran Chemjong, who was beaten just once in three matches - although only two were full ‘A’ internationals – ensuring Nepal farewelled the retiring Biraj Maharjan in grand style.
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