Afif to Lee Kang-in: Five players who lit up Asian Cup group stage

By AFP   January 26, 2024 | 03:18 pm PT
Afif to Lee Kang-in: Five players who lit up Asian Cup group stage
South Korea's Lee Kang-in (3rd L) celebrates with teammates after scoring in the Asian Cup group E match against Bahrain at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Jan. 15, 2024. Photo by AP/Thanassis Stavrakis
The Asian Cup last 16 begins on Sunday in Qatar when Australia face Indonesia and Tajikistan play the United Arab Emirates.

AFP Sports picks out five players who lit up the group phase:

Aymen Hussein (Iraq)

Iraq have been among the standout teams so far and largely have Hussein to thank.

Five goals from three matches have put the 27-year-old two clear in the race to be top-scorer.

He netted both in Iraq's 2-1 win over favorites Japan as the Lions of Mesopotamia strutted out of Group D with three wins.

The Air Force FC striker cuts an imposing figure at six feet and two inches (1.88 m).

With his side 1-0 down against Vietnam at the interval, he came off the bench for an eventful second half: scoring, missing a penalty, then showing the nerve to step up for a second penalty in the 12th minute of stoppage time.

He converted and Iraq won 3-2.

Musab Al-Battat (Palestine)

The Palestine skipper has proven an inspiration on and off the pitch.

On it, the attacking right-back is at the top of the tournament statistics with his two assists and eight chances created.

The 30-year-old led the charge as Palestine beat Hong Kong 3-0 to claim their first-ever win at the tournament, swinging in two inch-perfect crosses that ended in headed goals.

He has been a leader off the pitch too, the unofficial spokesman for a team who have advanced to the next round for the first time despite the war in Gaza.

In achieving that historic feat he said that the players had made good on "a promise we made to the Palestinian people".

Akram Afif (Qatar)

Livewire forward Afif was one of the stars of Qatar's 2019 Asian Cup win and is leading their charge again on home soil.

The 27-year-old scored two goals to spearhead his team's 3-0 opening win over Lebanon and was again on target as the hosts and holders beat Tajikistan 1-0.

Afif had spells in Belgium and Spain earlier in his career and has said he would leave Qatar's Al-Sadd to go back to Europe "tomorrow" if the opportunity was right.

Watching clubs will have taken note of his pace, clinical finishing and all-round attacking threat over the past two weeks.

Mehdi Ghayedi (Iran)

A former prodigy whose potential looked in danger of going unfulfilled, Ghayedi is back on track after playing a key role for Iran in the group stage.

The 25-year-old winger's elusive running and laser-guided finishing helped the three-time champions top their group with three wins from three.

Ghayedi has scored twice at the Asian Cup and both goals were virtually the same, sliding the ball into the far corner after gliding in from the left.

Iran look like being one of the main title contenders in Qatar and Ghayedi could help them win the Asian Cup again for the first time since 1976.

Lee Kang-in (South Korea)

Jurgen Klinsmann has made Lee the linchpin of his side and the Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder has repaid his coach's faith at the Asian Cup.

The 22-year-old outshone his captain Son Heung-min with two goals in South Korea's opening 3-1 win over Bahrain and forced an own goal against Malaysia with a brilliant free-kick.

South Korea have not fully convinced in Qatar and they face a crunch last-16 showdown with Roberto Mancini's Saudi Arabia next.

But with Lee pulling the creative strings and providing a shooting threat from long range, they could finally claim the trophy for the first time since 1960.

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