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

The 2019 edition of AFC Asian Cup, Asia's biggest football tournament, will witness some of the finest talent in action when it gets underway in the United Arab Emirates on January 5.

Sunil Chhetri has been the poster boy of Indian football over the last decade. He was instrumental in guiding India to an AFC Asian Cup berth in 2011 and scored two of the side’s three goals in that edition. Fast forward to 2018, the 34-year-old Chhetri has no plans of slowing down, having racked up a series of impressive performances along the way. He recently scored his 65th international goal, making him the joint second-highest active international goal-scorer along with Lionel Messi — only behind Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 85 goals to his name. Chhetri, who is India’s most-capped player with 103 appearances, played an indispensable role in India’s path to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification. Like a true captain, he led from the front and scored a remarkable eight goals to steer the Blue Tigers to their fourth appearance in the tournament. Backed by a dynamic team, Chhetri — who is known for his wily footwork and knack of finding spaces — will be out to marshal India past the group stage for the first time in 55 years. Photo: PTI
Hwang (centre) will head into the AFC Asian Cup after enjoying a spectacular 2018. The 26-year-old striker struck a stunning nine goals, including two hat-tricks, to power South Korea to the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games. The Gamba Osaka poacher’s year got better when he was voted the player of the year by the Korea Football Association in December. He also scored 16 goals for Gamba Osaka in the J1 League to steer the side to a fourth-place finish. Hwang has emerged as one of coach Paulo Bento’s favourites and is one of the only two strikers the coach has named for the Asian Cup. Hwang has scored thrice in the six matches that Bento has been in charge so far. With Son Heungmin expected to join the side only after the first two group matches, Hwang will shoulder the goal-scoring responsibilities in the UAE. Photo: AFP
Ali Mabkhout was the star of UAE’s third-place finish at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. The 28-year-old claimed the Golden Boot for his five goals and also scored the fastest goal in the tournament’s history. He has grown rapidly since and has continued to etch his name in history books. Earlier this year, he became the UAE Pro League’s all-time top goal-scorer and also played an instrumental role in his club, Al Jazira’s, progress to the semifinals of the 2017 Club World Cup. The side took on eventual champion Real Madrid and Mabkhout had a chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Having netted five times in UAE’s AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, the charismatic forward will be keen to continue his fine form in front of goal. Photo: Getty Images