When discussing players who will star at the FIFA World Cup – it’s those who hail from football’s traditional strongholds Europe and South America who immediately spring to mind. And while there’s no doubting that the likes of Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Brazil’s Neymar, England’s Harry Kane and France’s Kylian Mbappe are worth the price of admission – there are some lesser known yet talented players from other parts of the world who have a real chance of stamping their authority on international football when the sport’s preeminent event kicks off this month.
Asia is one of those continents that will be represented well in the Middle East, with the hosts Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Australia boasting a number of gifted players who can help put Asian football on the map.
Therefore, without further ado, read on as we take a look at three Asian soccer players who can light up the FIFA World Cup.
Son Heung-Min – South Korea
Having already established as one of the best players in world football, South Korea’s Son Heung-min has the opportunity to guide his team to the round of 16 for the first time since 2010. The 30-year-old has been in exceptional form in recent seasons with Tottenham Hotspur, netting 96 goals in 245 Premier League appearances to date – including 23 last season which secured him the English top-flight’s Golden Boot award.
There are concerns surrounding Son however, as he will enter the World Cup compromised physically. The 30-year-old suffered a fractured eye socket in the Spurs’ Champions League victory over French outfit Marseille in early November – which initially cast his World Cup availability in doubt. With that being said, at the time of writing, reports suggest that Son has been deemed fit to play – albeit with a face mask.
While it’s not ideal preparation for the Taegeuk Warriors, if Son can play somewhere near his best – South Korea will be very dangerous in Group H. For those who think South Korea can defy the World Cup odds and secure a round of 16 spot, the East Asian nation is paying 9/4 to progress to the knockout stages – behind favourites Portugal and Uruguay who are 1/6 and 2/5 respectively.
Mehdi Taremi – Iran
Iran’s Mehdi Taremi will be hoping for redemption at this year’s World Cup, after the then 25-year-old missed a crucial injury time opportunity against Portugal four years ago in Russia that would’ve secured the Middle Eastern nation their maiden round of 16 appearance. While that would be a bitter pill to swallow, to Taremi’s credit, the striker has put any disappointment behind him and starred at the club level since.
After joining Lisa Portugal’s Rio Ave in 2019, Taremi made an immediate impact – registering 18 goals in 30 games. That drew the interest from one of Portugal’s bigger clubs, Porto. Since joining the Sergio Conceicao-managed side, Taremi has excelled – scoring on 42 occasions in 78 appearances, including 11 this season across Primeira Liga and Champions League fixtures.
If he can maintain that kind of goalscoring form for Iran, they may upset the applecart and jag a top two spot in Group B.
Daichi Kamada – Japan
Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Daichi Kamada will be one to watch for the Samurai Blue. The 26-year-old has been in strong form at club level this season, notching up seven goals and three assists in the Bundesliga – helping Frankfurt sit fourth in the table after 15 games. His performances in Germany have garnered the attention of a number of clubs in Europe and the United Kingdom, including Tottenham and Leeds United.
Kamada has poured cold water recently on the prospect of changing clubs however, stating that he intends to stay with Frankfurt for the remainder of the season.
It’s not just Kamada’s performances for his club that will have Japanese fans excited, with his seven goals and three assists in 22 outings for his country nothing to be scoffed at. He will be the creative outlet for Japan at the World Cup, and if he can continue to build on his chemistry with the likes of winger Ritsu Dean and 21-year-old wonderkid Takefusa Kubo – Japan could end up being the surprise packet of Qatar.