(Persia Digest) - FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks the ten best performers from Match Day 2 of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 group stage.
1) Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)
After a woeful start, Thailand finally got up and running at AFC Asian Cup 2019 on Thursday with a 1-0 triumph over Bahrain.
As all good players tend to do, Chanathip Songkrasin rose to the occasion when his team needed him most with a fine display that culminated in him netting the only goal of the game in the 58th minute.
Making a late run into the box, the Consadole Sapporo playmaker was picked out by a right-wing delivery from Tristan Do and showed great technique to meet it with a cushioned volley on his weaker left foot into the roof of the net.
2) Khalfan Mubarak (United Arab Emirates)
With star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman ruled out through injury, United Arab Emirates showed a distinctive lack of flair in their opening 1-1 draw against Bahrain.
However, they bounced back on Thursday with a 2-0 triumph over India and it was Khalfan Mubarak – the man who started the tournament with just five caps to his name – who rose to the occasion.
Despite starting out on the right, the 23-year-old regularly drifted infield to be his side’s creative fulcrum and got them on their way with a well-taken goal in the 41st minute.
3) Chris Ikonomidis (Australia)
As if things were not already bad enough for oft-criticised Australia forward Robbie Kruse as he was dropped for Friday’s game against Palestine, it only got worse as he watched on from the bench as his replacement Chris Ikonomidis played a key role in helping the Socceroos to a much-needed 3-0 triumph.
The Perth Glory man played a glorious visionary pass for Awer Mabil to net the second of the game and repeated the trick again at the death to put a goal on a platter for substitute Apostolos Giannou.
With a crunch tie against Syria coming up on Tuesday, Australia coach Graham Arnold will now have the decide between the more-recognised Kruse or the in-form Ikonomidis, although it would not be too much of a surprise if he opts to keep his faith in the latter.
4) Wu Lei (China PR)
Wu Lei finished 2018 by becoming the first local in 11 years to claim the Chinese Super League Golden Boot after a prolific 27-goal haul, and is showing no signs of letting up following a brace in China PR’s 3-0 victory over Philippines.
He broke the deadlock in brilliant fashion as he received possession just inside the box before lofting a glorious shot into the far corner, and matched the feat in the second half by meeting Hao Junmin’s freekick with a sumptuous first-time volley that had Michael Falkesgaard beaten all ends up.
Wu may not be the archetypal No. 9 especially considering he has made much of his career as a wide forward but, with his skill, speed and finishing ability, the decision to deploy him as the main man of China’s attack could just prove to be a masterstroke by Marcello Lippi.
5) Sardar Azmoun (Iran)
Iran have made a storming start to the tournament with seven goals scored and none conceded in their opening two games, although they did meet some resistance against Vietnam on Saturday.
While Mehdi Taremi led the way in the opening 5-0 win over Yemen, it was Sardar Azmoun who stood tallest when the going got tough against a stubborn opposition defence.
He opened the scoring in the 38th minute when he was picked out at the far post by Saman Ghoddos’ excellent cross and made no mistake in heading home, but his second was a piece of individual brilliance as he effortlessly barged off two defenders after receiving possession outside the box before neatly finishing past Dang Van Lam.
6) Que Ngoc Hai (Vietnam)
Although he may have finished on the losing side, Que Ngoc Hai was able to walk out of the Al Nahyan Stadium with his head held high after a brave display which saw him lead Vietnam to conceding just two goals against a dominant Iran outfit.
Once a temperamental and inconsistent youngster, the defender has evolved into a real leader in the dressing room for coach Park Hang-seo and was never afraid to put his body on the line.
Vietnam can still dream of reaching the Round of 16 with victory over Yemen in their final Group D match and – in Ngoc Hai – they have the perfect man to rally the troops for the monumental tie.
7) Bashar Resan (Iraq)
Just two matches into Asian Cup 2019, there has been no shortage of stars emerging for Iraq, including 18-year-old wonderkid Mohanad Ali, Serie A-based left-back Ali Adnan, and playmaker Humam Tariq.
But, having identified a lack of energy in his engine room, Iraq coach Srecko Katanec introduced Bashar Resan to his starting XI against Yemen and it was a move which worked wonders.
The Persepolis man may have found the back of the net with a deflected strike, but it was his constant movement and distribution in helping link defence to attack that made him a standout.
8) Hattan Bahebri (Saudi Arabia)
Saudi Arabia have been impressive so far putting a combined six goals past DPR Korea and Lebanon, but perhaps the most pleasing aspect for coach Juan Antonio Pizzi would have been the fact that the two victories have come as a result of well-rounded team performances rather than being inspired by an individual virtuoso display.
Nonetheless, if there was really one player that has to be singled out, it would arguably be Hattan Bahebri.
Having been one of the Green Falcons‘ few positives from the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Hattan has now been handed a starting role and has not looked out of place as part of a fluid front three with Salem Al-Dawsari and Fahad Al-Muwallad, weighing in with an assist for Housain Al-Mogahwi on Saturday after some nifty footwork.
9) Almoez Ali (Qatar)
Almoez Ali became only the fifth player in Asian Cup history to net four goals in a game, putting on a masterclass in finishing as Qatar thrashed DPR Korea 6-0 on Sunday.
He was aided by some woeful defending from the North Koreans but that should not take nothing away from his dominant display in the final third, highlighted by a cheeky back-flick at the near post for his second goal after just 11 minutes.
Almoez, who only turns 23 in August, has spent time in Europe and – although he seems to be enjoying life back in Qatar with giants Al Duhail – could just be ready to try his luck once more in Europe, where he should have no shortage of suitors once the Asian Cup comes to a close.
10) Eldor Shomurodov (Uzbekistan)
Standing at 1.9-metres tall, Eldor Shomurodov provides the perfect focal point for a Uzbekistan side that like to attack down the wings before playing crosses into the box.
The FC Rostov man initially had to bide his time but came off the bench to score an 85th-minute winner against Oman, which earned him a place in the starting XI on Sunday at the expense of Marat Bikmaev.
And Shomurodov took his chance with both hands as he proved to be a real nightmare for the Turkmenistan defence, netting two goals to help the White Wolves to a 4-0 rout that saw them overtake Japan in top spot in Group F.
Click here for more sports news.