The Asian Cup extravaganza begins on 5th January and the fans from all the Asian countries and from across the world are in for a treat. The Asian Football Confederation is looking to attract more spectators and fans this time around with more teams (24 instead of 16), more groups (six instead of four) and more matches (52 instead of 32) than the previous edition.
Also, the tournament offers the fans a chance to look at some of the top Asian stars currently plying their trade in the major European leagues like Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A etc., and back home in the J-League, Saudi Professional League, K League 1, Chinese Super League etc.
Let's look at five top players who will excite us in the upcoming tournament.
#1 Mathew Ryan (Australia/Brighton & Hove Albion)
The Australian goalkeeper would be playing for the Socceroos against the likes of Jordan, Palestine, and Syria in the Group B of the tournament.
The 26-year old started his career at but soon moved to Central Coast Mariners where he won the 2011-12 A-League Premiership and also the 2013 A-League Championship before moving to Club Brugge where he helped the club win the 2014-15 Belgian Cup. Since then, he has played for Valencia CF, Genk and currently plays for Brighton & Hove Albion.
After succeeding former Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer as Australia's No.1, Ryan was part of the 2015 Asian Cup win where he won the Golden Glove and was also part of the 2015 Asian Cup Dream Team.
With 50 caps to his name, Ryan is one of the senior names in the squad and would be hoping to repeat the 2015 achievement this year as well.
#2 Mathew Leckie (Australia/Hertha)
Mathew Leckie will play for the defending champions Australia in the upcoming Asian Cup.
The 27-year old forward played for Adelaide United before switching to Borussia Monchengladbach in 2011 and since then, has played the entirety of his career in the German Bundesliga's first and second division.
He has an Asian Cup and a Bundesliga second division title to his name as major achievements of his career.
Earlier, it was reported that Leckie is injured and will miss the prestigious tournament but the Australian management has decided to take a gamble and hope for the prolific forward's a recovery by the start of the knockout matches.
#3 Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand/Consadole Sapporo)
The attacking midfielder from Thailand does not play in any of the top European leagues but is one of the hottest properties going into the Asia Cup.
The 25-year old started his career at BEC Tero Sasana, where he won the Thai League cup and moved on Muangthong United. At Muangthong, Songkrasin won his maiden Thai League 1 title, another Thai League cup, and a Thailand Champions Cup as well.
His good performances earned him a move to J-League's newly promoted side Consadole Sapporo making him the first Thai player to play in Japan's professional tier. The 5 ft and 2 in midfielder scored eight goals in the 2017 season of the J league helping his club finish 4th position in the league table. His eye-catching yet convincing performances saw him named in Best XI of J-League and the MVP at Sapporo for the 2018 season.
He will be playing for Thailand in the Asian Cup who have been grouped with UAE, India, and Bahrain in Group A.
#4 Son Heung-min (South Korea/Tottenham Hotspur F.C)
Son Heung-Min will be captaining South Korea in the much-awaited tournament but will be joining the National Team late due to club duties.
The 26-year old started his career at Hamburger SV II and then played for two years at Bayer Leverkusen before moving to Tottenham in 2015, becoming the most expensive Asian player in the history.
As of now, he holds the record for most goals by an Asian player in the Premier League. He also won Premier League Player of the Month on three different occasions and recently won the Premier League Goal of the Month in November 2018. He was also the top scorer in the 2016-17 FA Cup. Currently, he is in form of his life with eight goals and six assists in 16 PL games this season.
South Korea will be facing China, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines in Group C and would be hoping to top their group.Published 03 Jan 2019, 23:18 IST