Five Asian Cup starlets that could impact the Premier League
So far the Asian Cup has provided a host of thrilling goal fests, with a raft of underrated young stars seizing the opportunity to shine on the big stage in front of global audiences and top tier scouts.
With the group stage over, we take a look at who could potentially make a switch to British shores and get snapped up by a Premier League club.
Hamza Al-Dardour (Jordan, striker)
Jordan’s standout star may be taking an early plane home, but the Saudi Arabia-based striker certainly put his name up in lights and could be a shout for creativity-starved sides such as Aston Villa and Sunderland, or even a solution for Swansea City’s striker woes.
Al-Dardour illustrated strength, speed and acceleration to slot four perfectly-timed poacher’s finishes past Palestine in a performance which will have alerted clubs across Europe, despite the weak opposition.
The 23-year-old’s showing even came as a surprise to new coach Ray Wilkins, who stated: “Hamza was probably my third choice.
“His background, I’ve no idea. But you saw what his assets are. He’s got blistering pace and when he’s in front of goal he’ll stick it in the back of the net.”
Ali Mabkhout (United Arab Emirates, attacking midfielder)
Prolific Mabkhout, the oldest of our picks having recently turned 24, has notched up three goals in as many Asian Cup games and would be worth a punt for several relegation-threatened Premier League clubs.
He also has a knack for netting at crucial times, including the fastest strike in Asian Cup history, just 14 seconds into the UAE’s battle with Bahrain.
A creative, skilful attacker most comfortable behind a striker, magic Mabkhout has the opportunity to enhance his burgeoning reputation even further as his team are set to face Japan in the quarter-finals.
Sardar Azmoun (Iran, striker)
Highly-rated Iran attacker Azmoun rode into the tournament on a wave of hype but has largely been shielded by coach Carlos Quieroz. Awarded his first Asian Cup start against UAE, however, exciting Azmoun did not disappoint.
Dubbed the ‘Iranian Messi’, the tricky 20-year-old Rubin Kazan star has apparently been tracked by a host of Premier League clubs including, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool, for some time.
After his scintillating solo goal showcased impressive footwork and propelled the Princes of Persia (who are 5/1 with Coral to lift the Asian Cup) into the quarter-finals it is not hard to see why.
It remains to be seen whether the starlet is awarded a spot in the starting XI against bitter rivals Iraq after suffering an injury scare, but the youngster has already done enough to throw his name into the ring for Premier League transfer talk.
Massimo Luongo (Australia, midfielder)
The former Tottenham youth product has been plying his trade in the relative wilderness of Britain’s third tier, representing Swindon Town.
However, his impressive performances for Australia, including a goal, assist and Man of the Match award in his first Asian Cup outing, could see him snatched from the shop window.
Still just 21, Luongo, who descends from former Indonesian royalty, has much to prove in the latter rounds against tougher opposition, but has so far showcased technique, vision, awareness and work ethic.
Whilst the Championship would seem a logical next step, if he continues to excel for the Socceroos, Luongo could easily find himself a Premier League player before too long.
Teammate Mark Bresciano certainly thinks so, recently stating: “He’s much better than where he is now, he’s in League One and I don’t think that style suits him.
“I think he could go on and do well in the Premier League,” added the former Lazio midfielder. Perhaps a switch to Crystal Palace to play alongside Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak could prove fruitful?
Matt Ryan (Australia, goalkeeper)
Linked with Liverpool, 22-year-old Club Bruge keeper Ryan has so far only increased his stock at the Asian Cup, despite conceding two in three games.
Ryan has illustrated fantastic reflexes and a commanding presence between the posts for the Socceroos (who are 5/2 to win the tournament), with several of his saves so far ranking among the stops of the tournament.
For the Socceroos stopper, whose reputation has only been enhanced by game changing touches and praise from opposition number Ali Al-Habsi, the sky could be the limit.
Oman and Wigan Athletic-owned custodian Al-Habsi claimed: “He’s young, he can only improve and, of course Liverpool is a big club and for him it would be a great chance to make it.”
Brendan Rodgers’ Reds could certainly do with a such a commanding presence in their ranks.