By Ced Seredrica
Asia is the biggest continent on Earth and home to some of the most rabid football fans in the planet. Five teams will be representing the continent this summer in Russia and with the final lists out, here are some of the players itching to introduce themselves in the world stage.
Saeed Ezatolahi Afagh, 21 (IRAN, 25 CAPS, 1 GOALS) FK AMKAR PERM
The Iranian Pro League’s youngest ever player, Ezatolahi came up from Malavan’s youth academy and has been a standout player from a young age. Nicknamed “The Persian Pogba”, with his blend of size (6’3”), skill, and athleticism, it was clear to see why comparisons were made.
After making his youth international debut at the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup, his performances in the tournament attracted the attention of European sides, eventually signing for Atletico Madrid for the 2014-2015 Season. Now 21, playing for AMKAR PERM in Russia, and with 25 Senior International caps to his name, the tough tackling midfielder is expected to line up in the center of the park for Team Melli just behind Iran’s star attacking-midfielder Alireza Jahanbaksh to form part of the spine of Asia’s best team. Although he would have to wait for the second match as he is suspended for the opening fixture.
Daniel Arzani, 19 (Australia, 1 CAP), MELBOURNE CITY
The youngest ever player for the Aussies to be called up for a World Cup, Iranian born Arzani has the tools to make some noise with the Socceroos in Russia. Appearing in 18 matches and scoring 2 goals for a stacked Melbourne City side, Daniel Arzani claimed this year’s A League Young Player of the year award and capped it off with claiming his first cap for Australia.
The youngest player at the World Cup will be Australia’s 19 year old Daniel Arzani! 🇦🇺
— Dugout (@Dugout) June 5, 2018
Able to play on the wings or centrally in the number 10 role, Arzani is a creative midfielder that can make pose trouble to the opposition with his direct running and creativity. Although not expected to feature heavily, he can be a great option off the bench, troubling tired defenders with his intelligent movements towards changing the outcome of the game.
Naomichi Ueda, 23 (Japan, 3 CAPS), KASHIMA ANTLERS
At 23 years of age, Ueda is already approaching the prime of his career. With 82 apps for Kashima Antlers, he is already a seasoned J.League veteran. With a career high 29 appearances and 3 goals, Ueda helped anchor Kashima’s defense alongside Gen Shoji onwards to a 2nd place finish in 2017 and a spot in the AFC Champions League.
Standing 6’1”, he has the tools to go toe to toe with some of the world’s best hitmen. A good showing in Russia can be the platform he needs to follow in the steps of other great Samurai Blue defenders and earn a move to the old continent.
Lee Seung-woo, 20 (South Korea, 2 CAPS), HELLAS VERONA
The “Korean Messi”. Lee Seung-woo’s career has not exactly gone to plan. Signed as a 12 year old by FC Barcelona, blessed with pace and a nose for goal, he lead Barca’s U13 team in scoring. His career was off to a bright start. It’s not hard to see why he earned the moniker and how he was seen as the next Asian Superstar. But after his 16th birthday, Barcelona was involved in a controversy involving youth transfers forcing gifted players like Lee from playing official matches for a couple of years.
Now 20, and playing sparingly for Hellas Verona in Italy, Lee Seung-woo will be hoping to turn this summer’s tournament as a springboard to turn his career around and live up to his lofty billing.
Fahad Mosaed Al-Muwallad, 23 (Saudi Arabia, 44 CAPS, 10 GOALS), AL-ITTIHAD CLUB SAUDI ARABIA
The most seasoned player in this list. Fahad has been a mainstay for Saudi giants Al-Ittihad with 122 appearances to his name while scoring 36 league goals in the process. After tearing up the Saudi League with his blistering pace and skill in front of goal, Fahad earned himself a loan move to La Liga side Levante, making 2 appearances albeit all off the bench.
The diminutive winger has been a mainstay for the Green Falcons since making his debut in 2012, and at 23 is one of the youngest starters in the squad. Al-Muwallad will be expected to lead the line alongside perennial Saudi Pro League Golden Boot contender Mohammad Al-Sahlawi. Al-Muwallad’s play will arguably play a big part with the chances of the Saudi’s progressing from the group stage in this tournament and if he does rise to the occasion, we are probably looking at one of Asia’s next best homegrown exports.