AFC Asian Cup 2019 Match Day 3: The Top 10

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks out the ten best performers as the AFC Asian Cup 2019 group stage came to a close on Match Day 3.

1) Thitipan Puangchan (Thailand)

When Thailand fell behind to United Arab Emirates after just seven minutes at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Monday, it looked as though their hopes of reaching the AFC Asian Cup 2019 Round of 16 were hanging by a thread.

AFC ASIAN CUP 2019 Player of Day 10: THITIPAN PUANGCHAN

But, with a determined charge into the box and the composure to finish after a mix-up in the area, Thitipan Puangchan found the equaliser which ultimately proved enough to send the War Elephants through.

The all-action midfielder has been one of Thailand’s best players so far this tournament and, with reported interest from Japan, will do his prospects of an overseas move no harm at all if he keeps up his level of performance.

2) Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (India)

There was late heartbreak for India in the other Group A game as they conceded a 90th-minute penalty against Bahrain, which was converted by Jamal Rashid to condemn the South Asians to a 1-0 defeat and elimination from the tournament.

There was little Gurpreet Singh Sandhu could do to keep out Jamal’s spot-kick but, up till that point, he had done a brilliant job of keeping India in the contest with a series of fine – if at times unconvincing – saves.

In the end, the Blue Tigers paid for some passive tactics by now-former coach Stephen Constantine, although Gurpreet can head home with his head held high.

3) Tom Rogic (Australia)

When Aaron Mooy was ruled out of the tournament, many highlighted Celtic’s Tom Rogic as the man to step up as Australia’s playmaker-in-chief although he did have a slow start before finding some form in last week’s 3-0 triumph over Palestine.

On Tuesday, the 26-year-old showed why he is rated so highly with an outstanding display that helped the Socceroos keep alive their prospects of a successful title defence with a 3-2 victory over Syria.

A fantastic diagonal pass laid on an assist for Chris Ikonomidis and, even though Australia would have gone through even with a 2-2 draw, Rogic put any doubt to bed with a 93rd-minute winner from the edge of the area.

4) Son Heung-min (Korea Republic)

AFC Asian Cup 2019 may have had to wait to be graced by Son Heung-min’s presence, but it certainly was worth it.

The Tottenham star was thrown straight into Paulo Bento’s starting XI against China PR and produced a virtuoso display, with his touches and intelligence highlighting the difference in standard from a player plying his trade in the Premier League.

SON WATCH: Son Heung-min vs China

His determination and quick feet won the penalty that resulted in Hwang Ui-jo’s opener, before an inch-perfect corner was headed home by Kim Min-jae to secure three points and first place in Group C.

5) Vitalij Lux (Kyrgyz Republic)

It is something to be your country’s first-ever hat-trick scorer, but it is even more impressive when it results in qualification for the Round of 16 on debut in the Asian Cup.

That is exactly what Vitalij Lux did as he hit the back of the net thrice in a 3-1 Group D triumph over Philippines on Wednesday.

Remarkably, Lux’s hat-trick ticked the boxes of quantity, quality and significance, and the German-born striker will now be setting his sights on causing a real upset against hosts UAE in the knockout stage.

6) Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam)

Having already inspired Vietnam to being crowned champions of Southeast Asia with displays befitting the Most Valuable Player he picked up, Nguyen Quang Hai is showing no signs of slowing down.

Even in two tough opening assignments against Iran and Iraq, the Ha Noi attacker showed glimpses of his ability.

But, with Vietnam needing to beat Yemen to stand any chance of progressing, Quang Hai rose to the occasion by getting them on their way to a 2-0 triumph with a sublime 30-yard freekick.

7) Yoshinori Muto (Japan)

With Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu opting to rest his entire first XI as qualification was already secured, it was down to the second-stringers to get the job done of pipping Uzbekistan to top spot.

To be fair, it was still a formidable Samurai Blue lineup boasting Europe-based stars such as Takashi Inui and Yoshinori Muto, and the latter in particular impressed.

There has never been any doubt over Muto’s work rate but there is the sentiment that he needs to add more goals to his game, something he did on Thursday by meeting Sei Muroya’s excellent cross with a fine header into the back of the net.

8) Ahmed Al-Mahaijri (Oman)

History was made when Oman beat Turkmenistan 3-1 in their final Group F game to advance from the group stage for the first time in their history.

One man who has led the charge admirably has been Ahmed Al-Mahaijri, so it should come as no surprise that he was in typical inspirational form again on Thursday.

Al-Mahaijri broke the deadlock with a sublime freekick past Mammet Orazmuhammedow in the 20th minute, and also laid on an assist for Muhsen Al-Ghassani with a precise cut-back having refused to give up on what looked a lost cause.

9) Hilal El-Helwe (Lebanon)

It was not to be in the end for Lebanon despite a 4-1 win over DPR Korea seeing them finish third in Group E, as their exactly identical records with Vietnam meant it went down to disciplinary record and the Vietnamese prevailed with five yellow cards to seven.

Nonetheless, the Cedars gave an excellent account of themselves for much of the tournament and head home on a positive note.

Hilal El-Helwe was one of those who tried to do everything he could to get Lebanon over the line, causing all sorts of problems for the North Korean defence with his physicality and tenacity on his way to bagging a brace.

10) Almoez Ali (Qatar)

With seven goals in just three matches, Almoez Ali has been the revelation of the Asian Cup and is just one away from matching Iran legend Ali Daei’s record for most goals at a single tournament.

With Qatar coming up against their first real tough test on Thursday evening against Saudi Arabia, there was plenty of interest as to whether they would rise to the occasion after two fairly comfortable matches.

And, while some of the Qataris certainly found the going tougher, Almoez had no such problems as he scored twice, won a penalty that Hassan Al-Haydos missed, and should have had another with a good strong header that was disallowed for no apparent reason.

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