FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks his Team of the Tournament from the recently-concluded Asian Games 2018.
After over three weeks of gruelling football, Korea Republic have won the gold medal at Asian Games 2018 after claiming a 2-0 extra-time victory over Japan in last Saturday’s final.
Meanwhile, United Arab Emirates miraculously claimed the bronze medal after beating Vietnam on penalties, despite winning only once throughout the tournament – a 4-1 group stage triumph over Timor-Leste.
It should come as no surprise that overage players like Son Heung-min, Stefano Lilipaly and Nguyen Van Quyet really lit up the stage, but there was also no shortage of up-and-coming prospects who took the chance to shine.
And, with the Asian Games essentially being an age-group tournament, FOX Sports Asia has decided to choose our Best XI strictly from the Under-23 players, meaning – unfortunately – that there is no place for Son, nine-goal Hwang Ui-jo, Lilipaly or Van Quyet.
GK: Mohamed Al-Shamsi (United Arab Emirates)
It is quite remarkable that UAE achieved a bronze medal finish despite only winning one match, and instead got as far as they did courtesy of penalty shootout triumphs in the Round of 16, quarter-finals and third-place playoff.
Unsurprisingly, goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shamsi emerged as one of their top performers as he made crucial saves in all three shootouts, and was also impressive in general play with his command of his area and shot-stopping.
RB: Vu Van Thanh (Vietnam)
Having already been a star in January’s AFC U-23 Championship, Vu Van Thanh continued his excellent form in Indonesia as Vietnam stormed to the semi-finals before being beaten by eventual winners Korea Republic.
The 22-year-old looks a perfect fit for coach Park Hang-seo’s 5-2-3 system, bombing forward with intent whenever he gets the chance but is also adept at performing his defensive duties.
CB: Yugo Tatsuta (Japan)
Yugo Tatsuta may have suffered the ignominy of netting an own-goal in Japan’s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia, although it failed to blemish what was a fine campaign from the towering 1.89 metre centre-back.
With Japan opting for a three-man defence, Tatsuta was regularly used as the central lynchpin for his composure and reading of the game, and it will be very interesting to see how far the 20-year-old Shimizu S-Pulse man will go in his career.
CB: Bui Tien Dung (Vietnam)
While it was Bui Tien Dung – the goalkeeper – who shone for Vietnam back at the AFC U-23 Championship, it was Bui Tien Dung – the centre-back – who came to the fore this time around.
The Viettel defender played a crucial role in his side keeping five consecutive clean sheets from their opening Group D clash until they conceded in the semi-finals to the South Koreans, and was arguably the most impressive out of himself, Do Duy Manh and Tran Dinh Trong.
LB: Kim Jin-ya (Korea Republic)
As far as left-backs go, few performed better than Korea Republic’s Kim Jin-ya throughout the tournament.
The 20-year-old’s all-action style of play saw him provide a constant source of energy down the flank for the South Koreans, and he even found the time to pop up with goal in their opening 6-0 win over Bahrain.
CM: Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam)
Widely regarded as one of Southeast Asian’s brightest prospects following some brilliant displays as an attacker, Nguyen Quang Hai’s development continued at the Asian Games as he was deployed in a traditional central midfield role.
Quang Hai not only adapted well to an unfamiliar role but even outperformed Vietnam’s usual midfield general Luong Xuan Truong, although his campaign ended on a sour note as he missed a costly penalty in the bronze medal playoff against United Arab Emirates.
CM: Odiljon Xamrobekov (Uzbekistan)
Until their unfortunate 4-3 loss to Korea Republic in the quarter-finals, Uzbekistan had been one of the favourites for the gold medal following their dominant displays in the earlier stages.
Overage addition Ikromjon Alibaev – only 24 – gained plenty of plaudits with his four goals from central midfield, Odiljon Xamrobekov was equally impressive alongside him with his tidy distribution and ability to find pockets of space to hurt the opponents.
AM: Lee Seung-woo (Korea Republic)
One big-name South Korean that did not have to qualify as an overage wild card was Hellas Verona’s Lee Seung-woo and, while he did not always feature from the start, he more than made an impact for the Taegeuk Warriors.
It was not just the four goals Lee scored that highlighted his contribution but the importance of them having notched a crucial brace in the semi-finals, as well as the go-ahead 93rd-minute strike against Japan in the final
RF: Safawi Rasid (Malaysia)
Just like at the AFC U-23 Championship, Malaysia emerged as one of the surprise packages by claiming a couple of famous scalps on their way to the knockout round – including being the only team that beat Korea Republic.
Safawi Rasid was the hero of that game with his first-half double that stunned the South Koreans, but also netted against Kyrgyz Republic and Bahrain as part of impressive strike trio – along with Syafiq Ahmad and Akhyar Rashid – that looks to be the future of Harimau Malaya.
LF: Yuto Iwasaki (Japan)
Japan’s forward-thinking approach to the Asian Games – where they only picked players under the age of 21 with one eye on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – paid off as they picked up the silver medal, while also exposing their younger players to high-level competition.
Many of Hajime Moriyasu’s charges returned home with their reputations enhanced and none more so than attacker Yuto Iwasaki, who scored four goals and was one of the tournament’s most-dangerous individuals throughout.
CF: Zabikhillo Urinboev (Uzbekistan)
Although his and Uzbekistan’s campaign ended in the quarters, Zabikhillo Urinboev was still the standout centre-forward throughout the tournament barring South Korea’s overage Hwang Ui-jo.
The lanky 23-year-old looked to relish the added responsibility of captaining his side and proved deadly in the final third with four goals to his name, despite being consistently double-teamed by opposition defences.