The AFC Asian Cup has long been a platform for new talents to flourish and the continental finals at Qatar 2011 has proved to be no exception. With the Asian showpiece approaching the semi-final phase, a host of starlets have announced their arrival on the international scene having excelled so far with their respective teams. Some of these new sensations will be looking to shine in the upcoming semi-finals, while others have laid down a marker for the future despite their teams’ elimination. FIFA.com takes a look at Asia’s latest crop of new talent.
*Midfielder, Gyeongnam FC and Korea Republic
*Cho Kwang-Rae could lay claim to being the happiest coach at Qatar 2011 with a new-look team full of young talent winning through to the last four. With both Koo Ja-Cheol and Ji Dong-Won already living up to their billing as the tournament's players to watch in the group phase, their quarter-final meeting against nemesis Iran uncovered another fresh gem with 20-year-old Yoon Bit-Garam scoring the only goal. In only his third game at Doha - all as a substitute – the Gyeongnam FC hopeful, who was voted the K-League Rookie of the Year last season, stole the show firing the match-winner in extra time. Already heralded as one of Korea Republic’s best youth talents, the midfielder is expected to further prove himself against Japan.
*Midfielder, Brisbane Roar and Australia
*After shining for Australia at the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, it has taken metronomic midfielder Matt McKay an extended period of time to make the jump to full international level. Now some eight years on in the same part of the world, the Brisbane Roar captain has proven himself at the highest level with a series of typically inspirational displays appearing in all four matches to date. In a squad full of European-based players McKay has been a standard-bearer for the A-League as the Socceroos have won their way through to the semi-finals for the first time. Be it displaying his high-tempo passing game in the middle of the park or filling in at the troublesome left fullback role, McKay seems set to be a key player on the road to Brazil 2014.
*Midfielder, Pakhtakor and Uzbekistan
*Uzbekistan may be marginal underdogs going into the semi-final clash with Australia but with their midfield stalwart Odil Ahmedov in top form they are more than capable of producing the unexpected. Having established his starting place with both club and country, the 23-year-old Pakhtakor man has proved one of the tournament’s sensations, opening his account in their opening 2-0 victory against hosts Qatar with a sensational long-range goal, before again being on target in their 2-2 draw with China. Renowned for his powerful thunderbolt strike, Ahmedov plays a pivotal role in bossing the central of the park alongside former AFC Asian Player of the Year Server Djeparov.
Karim Ansari Fard
*Forward, Saipa and Iran
*Even before the commencement of the Asian Cup, Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi singled out Ansari Fard as one of his favourites when asked to name a few of their young prospects by FIFA.com. He was soon proved correct as the 20-year-old striker netted the only goal against Korea DPR in their second group game that sealed their progression to last eight. Despite their defeat to Korea Republic in the quarter-final clash, the Iran No10 has undoubtedly caught the eye of some of Europe’s top clubs through his brilliant performance during their campaign.
*Forward, Al Sadd and Qatar
*The Qatari fans may be left still lamenting their narrow last-gasp loss at the hands of Japan which cost them a place in the last four. However, the host nation didn’t finish completely empty-handed with 22-year-old forward Yusef Ahmed proving to be a revelation. After watching his side lose to Uzbekistan 2-0 in the opener, the diminutive forward, a surprise inclusion in Bruno Metsu’s Asian Cup squad, made his name in their second game against China with two of the tournament’s finest strikes. He continued to pose a constant threat against Kuwait and Japan and despite their exit, the Al Sadd marksmen is already being hailed among the country’s best after his continental exploits.
*Forward, Borussia Dortmund and Japan
*Former Japan coach Takeshi Okada may have been left regretting the omission of Shinji Kagawa for his 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ squad after the 21-year-old’s player of the match performance in their 3-2 quarter-final triumph over Qatar. His recent rapid rise to prominence came after scoring the winner against Paraguay in a friendly last September, and most notably, a stunning debut Bundesliga return of eight goals in just 17 appearances with Borussia Dortmund. The 2011 AFC Asian Cup is his first major tournament for the Blue Samurai with the nimble attacker proving the pre-tournament hype was not without basis.