AFC Asian Cup 2019: Players to watch out for (part two)

Two Premier League players will hog the spotlight at the 2019 edition of the AFC Asian Cup.

For someone who is only 25, Alireza Jahanbaksh sure does have a lot of experience under his belt. The winger moved to Dutch side NEC in his late teens and made his maiden World Cup appearance as a 20-year-old at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He was also a part of the Iran team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 Asian Cup. The same year saw him secure a move to Eredivisie giant AZ Alkmaar, a move which did wonders for his career. He became a regular in the team and with every passing campaign, he began to find the back of the net more frequently. In the 2017-18 season, he dished out a scintillating run that saw him score 21 goals and become the first Asian player to emerge as the top-scorer in a European league. His fine form fetched him a spot in Iran’s 2018 FIFA World Cup squad and he played all three group stage matches, which included a creditable 1-1 draw against Euro 2016 champion Portugal. His exploits in front of goal attracted interest from clubs across the globe and he was subsequently signed up by Premier League outfit Brighton and Hove Albion in 2018 for a club record fee reported to be around £17 million. Paired alongside fellow goal-getter Sardar Azmoun, he will be expected to spearhead Iran’s goal-scoring duties in the UAE. Photo: Getty Images
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Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has had a remarkable 2018. He played saviour not once, but twice this year as he steered The Philippines to its maiden AFC Asian Cup appearance and powered Cardiff City from The Championship to the Premier League. His career at Cardiff City saw him become the first Filipino and Southeast Asian footballer to ply his trade in the Premier League. Having played for English clubs throughout his career and the English national team at the Under-16 level, Etheridge switched nationalities in 2008. He has become a mainstay in goal since and has registered 62 caps for The Azkals. His 6’3” height enables him to comfortably deal with aerial threats. He’s equally skilful with his feet, having begun his career as a winger. As he is one of the senior-most members of the squad, The Azkals will depend on Etheridge to hold fort between the sticks. Photo: Reuters
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Wu Lei is among the finest footballers China has ever produced and one of the most notable names in Asian football. The winger made his debut for Chinese outfit Shanghai SIPG when he was all of 14 years and 287 days — the youngest in Chinese football history — and has remained with the side since. The 27-year-old is Shanghai SIPG’s most-celebrated player of all-time, having scored 169 goals in 344 appearances in a career spanning 13 years, which also saw him nominated for the AFC Player of the Year award in 2016 and 2017. He made his debut for the national side in 2010 but was unable to cement his spot in the team in the initial few years. He went on to score his debut goal in national colours in 2013 and has gone on to receive 57 caps and pocket 12 goals. While Wu has shone in the club football scene, he has struggled to replicate his form with the national team. However, this could be the tournament when he changes that as he arrives in striking form, having topped the goal-scoring chart in the Chinese Super League with a stunning 27 goals and leading Shanghai SIPG to its maiden Chinese Super League title. Photo: Getty Images
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