The continental showpiece unearthed several young stars who produced a string of inspiring performances at the tournament.
The continent’s biggest footballing carnival had a bit of everything through its proceedings and even through the ebbs and flows of the event, there were men who gave a great account of themselves and showed relentless character, grit and passion to be the difference for their nation on the continental stage.
5. Takehiro Tomiyasu (Defender – Japan)
Probably one of the best defensive displays in the AFC Asian Cup 2019, as Japan and coach Hajime Moriyasu seems to have chosen the right chords in defence by trusting a 20-year old Takehiro Tomiyashu. Partnering veteran Maya Yoshida, the youngster showed great maturity and grit for the Blue Samurai en route to the finale.
Watch: Tomiyashu scored the only goal in Japan’s Round of 16 game against Saudi Arabia
Tomiyashu features for Belgian top division side Sint-Truiden and boasts a calm and composed head over his young shoulders, besides being a great reader of the game. He even stepped up at the other end and scored the winner in their Round of 16 fixture against Saudi Arabia. With consistency and more experience, the defender could be a mainstay in the back four for his team for years to come.
4. Mohanad Ali (Forward – Iraq)
Watch: Ali was one of the standout performers for Iraq in the AFC Asian Cup
Imagine being only 18-years-old and shouldering the responsibilities of a whole nation to produce the goods on the continental stages. Yes, that was the story of Iraq‘s Mohanad Ali, as the youngster went head on with all the odds, beating most of them.
Despite being the youngest player in the entire tournament, Ali showed great resilience and maturity on the ball. He has a huge physical presence in attack and never shies away from taking shots at goal from distance. He also scored two crucial goals in Iraq’s opening two fixtures, setting them up nicely for a knockout spot.
Plying his trade for native club Al-Shorta, Ali’s performances at the Asian Cup could take him far away from his motherland, as some reports suggest that Scottish Premiership side Rangers were monitoring him.
3. Nguyen Quang Hai ( Right Winger – Vietnam)
Park Hang-seo’s Vietnam came to the Asian Cup on the back of their AFF Suzuki Cup triumph. Their task was cut out and the country’s own hero led the charge, as the Golden Dragons scripted one of the most famous underdog stories on the continental front, reaching the quarterfinals.
Watch: Quang Hai was arguably Vietnam’s best player at the Asian Cup
Touted as the Vietnamese Messi, Nguyen Quang is an amalgamation of youthful exuberance and maturity. The 21-year-old stepped up in his country’s time of dire need, scoring a crucial free-kick goal against Yemen. The midfielder currently plays for Hanoi in his native. But, after their continental success, the midfielder and some of his teammates are set to train with Spanish La Liga side Deportivo Alaves.
2. Akram Afif (Forward – Qatar)
Akram Afif played a perfect Robin to Almoez Ali’s Batman, as their telepathic camaraderie was much lauded throughout the Asian Cup and it was also detrimental for the Maroons in their continental triumph. Afif notched up an amazing ten assists in the tournament, being the creative engine for Felix Sanchez’s men.
Watch: Akram Afif was arguably the best creator of the Qatari side
The 22-year-old plies his trade for Qatari club Al Sadd on loan from Spanish side Villareal. Afif did not get a proper opportunity to prove his mettle for the Yellow Submarines, but following his stunning performances at the Asian Cup, the Spanish side may just recall their man from his loan. He also scored from the spot against Japan in the final.
1. Almoez Ali (Centre Forward – Qatar)
“Cometh the hour cometh the man”- similarly Qatar’s poster-boy Almoez Ali inspired the Maroons to their maiden continental success. The forward from Al Duhail boasts a bit of everything that is required to become an ideal striker, as he bagged the Golden Boot and broke Iran‘s legendary forward Ali Daei’s record for the most goals scored in an Asian Cup.
Watch: Ali was the top scorer of the AFC Asian Cup 2019
Almoez proved his mettle when his nation needed him. His positional sense and both on and off the ball movement, along with his physicality make him a daunting figure in front of goal. After his stunning display on the continental stage, a call from a European club isn’t far away for the Qatari star, as reports already suggest that AC Milan sent scouts to monitor the youngster.
Honourable Mentions: Assim Madibo (Qatar), Ritsu Doan (Japan), Bassam Al Rawi (Qatar) and Awer Mabil (Australia).