These footballers left their mark in the game with remarkable performances for their respective nations.

All the Asian teams have been knocked out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup but they have always been underdogs in the tournament. The historic 2002 World Cup has been the only tournament where an Asian team progressed the furthest. South Korea, Japan have been the most consistent teams from Asia to feature in the tournament.

Here are the top 10 Asian players who have had the most appearances at the World Cup.

10. Jung-hwan Ahn (South Korea) – 10

Jung-hwan Ahn scored one of the most iconic goals that broke Italian fans’ hearts. The super-sub for South Korea in the 2002 World Cup scored the winning goal for his country to eliminate Italy from the Round of 16. South Korea went on to produce their best-ever performance on the big stage as they made the semi-finals.

Just before the tournament, South Korea coach Guus Hiddink had told Jung-hwan that this tournament is going to change his life and it indeed did. He wasn’t well received in Italy after he came back from the World Cup with his car being vandalised by the Azzuri fans and death threats from the Italian Mafia according to reports.

Jung-hwan was part of the 1998 World Cup team but did not make it to the playing squad. He made his first squad appearance in the 2002 World Cup in his home country. Hung-hwan also went on to play in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Though it was that one goal that made headlines and created history for Jung-hwan Ahn.

9. Maya Yoshida (Japan) – 11

The centre-back was born in the most devastating place that suffered during World War II – Nagasaki. Maya Yoshida played his third World Cup and his first wearing the captain’s armband. Yoshida was part of Japan’s squad in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. However, a fatigue fracture before the tournament ruled him out.

Yoshida played a pivotal role in the 2018 World Cup where Japan reached the Round of 16. They were eventually knocked out by Belgium in the last 16. The Japanese international has been prolific at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. However, once again crashed out in the pre-quarterfinals stage against Croatia via penalty shootouts. Yoshida is a respectable figure in the dressing room and captain Japan in the World Cup.

8. Woon-Jae-Lee (South Korea) – 11

The goalkeeper made the most crucial save for South Korea in the 2002 World Cup. After defeating Italy, South Korea faced Spain in the quarterfinals. Woon-Jae-Lee became the hero in the shootout against Spain after blocking Jaoquin’s penalty. His save took South Korea to the World Cup semi-finals. The Taegeuk Warriors eventually lost to Germany in the semis. They ended the tournament as the fourth-best team, their best-ever finish at the World Cup.

Woon-Jae-Lee played in four different World Cups – 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2010.

7. Nam-Il Kim (South Korea) – 11

The defensive midfielder is another player from the 2002 World Cup team that produced one of the best performances for South Korea in the tournament. The midfielder featured in 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup editions. In 2002, he played every game until the quarterfinals which he missed due to an ankle injury. He also missed the game against Germany in the semifinals and also the third-place playoff against Turkey.

He was named the “Vaccum Cleaner” under Guus Hiddink the then coach of South Korea as he showed strong stamina and relentless energy. In January 2003 after a strong performance at the World Cup, he joined Eredivise side Feyenoord on loan. However, he failed to make a strong impression and eventually came back to the South Korean league.

6. Eiji Kawashima (Japan) – 11

The goalkeeper was called to the national squad in 2007 after being named the Goalkeeper of the Year at the AFC Youth Championships in 2002. He was selected for the 2010 World Cup as a backup keeper for Seigo Narazaki. However, after his performance in the friendly against England, Kawashima became Japan’s first-choice goalkeeper.

He kept a clean sheet in his first World Cup game against Cameroon which Japan won by a goal to nil. The 39-year-old was also a part of the Japan squad in Qatar but did not make the playing XI. Shuichi Gonda was Japan’s first-choice goalkeeper at FIFA World Cup 2022.

5. Makoto Hasebe (Japan) – 11

The veteran centre-back led Japan in three World Cups from 2010 to 2018. He made his first international debut in 2006 in a friendly against USA under Zico, but did not make it to the 2006 World Cup squad. Hasebe was named the on-field captain for Japan in 2010 as Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was the third reserve goalkeeper.

He announced his retirement after the 3-2 defeat to Belgium in the 2018 World Cup handing over the armband to Maya Yoshida. Hasebe is currently playing in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt.

4. Young-Pyo Lee (South Korea) – 12

Young-Pyo Lee played as a right-footed left-back. His former club manager at Tottenham Hotspur, Martin Jol called him the best left-back in Holland at the time. The left-back received high acclaim for the 2002 World Cup under Guus Hiddink. He made two assists in the tournament against Portugal and Italy which ended Italy’s run in the competition.

Lee was recognised for his pace and dribbling skills which attracted Eindhoven to sign him in 2003. He was recognised for his performance in the Netherlands in 2004-05. Tottenham bought him in 2005 amidst heavy competition from Serie A clubs. After his retirement, Young-Pyo Lee began his two-year stint in 2021 as the CEO of first-tier team Gangwon FC.

3. Park Ji-Sung (South Korea) – 14

The Manchester United legend is one of the most successful midfielders from Asia. He is the first Asian player to play in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Champions League Final and the first Asian to win the FIFA Club World Cup. Park is one of the most decorated Asian player of all-time. He was nicknamed “Three-Lungs” Park for his endurance level.

He could play anywhere in the midfield and was noted for his work-ethic, off-the-ball movement, and exceptional fitness level.

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2. Yoto Nagatamo (Japan) – 15

The 36-year-old left-back has been a prolific player for the national team establishing himself quickly in both FC Tokyo and in the national team. He was called up to the national team in the 2010 World Cup after a successful stint at Tokyo FC. After the World Cup, he went to Europe first joining Cesana in 2010 and later Inter Milan in 2011.

Nagatomo has just two assists in the World Cup but has been a significant addition to the team. He has now become the most capped Japanese player at FIFA World Cups. He hasn’t received a yellow card in the last three World Cup editions.

1. Myung-bo Hong (South Korea) – 16

Hong captained the famous South Korean side of the 2002 World Cup. he scored the winning penalty against Spain which took South Korea to the semifinals. He was named the third-best player of the tournament and awarded the Bronze Ball becoming the first Asian to win it. He is one of the greatest Asian footballers to have ever played.

Hong is the first Asian footballer to feature in four World Cups – 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. Hong ended his international career after a friendly game against the World Champions Brazil in 2002. He wasn’t pacy or skillful but he was a man-to-man, he was an offensive sweeper with great vision, switching plays with long-range passing.

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