Five stars set to shine at the Asian Cup

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Son, Beiranvand and Al-Dawsari are just three players to watch out for at this month's Asian Cup. (AFP)
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Updated 03 January 2019

Five stars set to shine at the Asian Cup

  • Tottenham's man of the moment Son set to swap Premier League action for an Asian Cup title tilt with South Korea
  • Expanded tournament to see 24 teams battle it out for continental glory in the UAE.

LONDON: We are just two days away from the big kick-off when hosts the UAE open their campaign against Gulf rivals Bahrain. It is set to be the biggest Asian Cup yet with as many as 24 teams taking part, of which seven will feel that they have a decent chance of ultimate glory.
Here we take a look at five players to watch out for over the next few weeks of footballing action in the Emirates.


Saudi Arabian football fans will be only too aware of what the star striker is capable of having seen him top the Saudi Pro League scoring charts for three seasons from 2015. The Al-Ahli man will be key to Syria’s chances of going deep in the UAE. They came so close to qualifying for last year’s World Cup and will be keen to make an impression over the next month. In a group with one of the big favorites Australia, Palestine and dark horses Lebanon, the Syrians will need Al-Soma to be at his best.


The Blue Samurai are perennial favorites to lift the trophy — they have won a record four Asian Cup titles. This year they head into the tournament once again as the team to beat. A lot is expected of the Nakajima, the 24-year-old one of a wave of young guns looking to drive Japan to glory in the UAE. The midfielder made his debut only last March but has impressed since and will look to be the creative spark around which the Blue Samurai can slice opposition defenses apart.


If there are three words that can encapsulate why the South Koreans are one of the big favorites to lift the trophy come Feb. 1 they are Son Heung-Min. The Tottenham player is in the form of his life at the moment, scoring 11 goals in his past 16 appearances for the London club. The hope for South Korea boss Paulo Bento is that Son can take that form into the side’s title tilt. If he does then it will take some performance to stop Son and Co. It is not just Son’s goals that will be important but also his creativity, during the same period he has scored 11 goals for Spurs he has also assisted five goals and been at the hub of everything good about a Tottenham side that when on song look as good as any in Europe.


While much has been made about Iran’s attacking threat, with players such as Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh to pose threats to opposition defenses, Iran’s key player could well be the big man at the back. Even though Team Melli exited last summer’s World Cup at the group stage Beiranvand was one of the best goalkeepers in Russia, saving a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo being on of his many highlights. He was key in Persepolis making the final of last year’s Asian Champions League — where they were beaten by Kashima Antlers — and if he can have another standout tournament in the UAE expect Carlos Queiroz’s side to mount a title challenge.


The Green Falcons have failed to progress beyond the group stage at the previous two Asian Cups and should they fall at the first hurdle this time around it will be a huge shock and failure. That they head into the tournament confident they can make a big impact is down in part to the presence of players such as Al-Dawsari. The Al-Hilal winger scored the winner in they side’s 2-1 win over Egypt at the World Cup — the side’s first win at the tournament since 1994. It was just reward for a campaign which saw the Green Falcons improve with every match and proved that in players such as Al-Dawsari there is a core group of young players who are learning all the time and getting better with every match. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi wanted to use the World Cup success as a springboard to an Asian Cup title challenge, the form of Al-Dawsari will be key if one is to materialize.


Ronaldo faces multi-million tax fraud fine in Madrid court

Updated 16 min 15 sec ago

Ronaldo faces multi-million tax fraud fine in Madrid court

MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo is returning to Madrid for a court date on Tuesday in which he could be fined 18.8 million euros ($21.4 million) for tax fraud as part of a deal reached with the Spanish taxman.
As part of an agreement arranged in June with the former Real Madrid hero’s lawyers, prosecutors are also asking that the Portuguese attacker, who last summer left the Spanish capital for Italian champions Juventus, be handed a 23-month jail sentence.
However Ronaldo would not spend a day in prison as sentences of up to two years are generally not enforced in Spain for first-time offenders in non-violent crimes.
The hearing, due to start at 9:50 am (0850 GMT), is expected to last just a few minutes as the deal is officially presented to the judge.
He in turn will give the final sentence on Tuesday or the coming days, according to a spokesman for the court in northern Madrid.
Ronaldo will not be given special treatment when he arrives and will have to climb up the courthouse steps amid a likely media scrum despite the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s lawyers asking he be allowed to enter the building by car to avoid the spotlight.
The court president refused the request, saying that despite his “great fame,” he wouldn’t “compromise security” at the building, according to a court document.
His request to appear via videoconference was also denied.

Madrid prosecutors opened a probe into Ronaldo in June 2017 and he was questioned in July that same year.
“I have never hidden anything, nor have I had the intention of evading taxes,” he told the court then, according to a statement from the sports agency which represents him, Gestifute.
Prosecutors accuse him of having used companies in low-tax foreign jurisdictions — notably the British Virgin Islands and Ireland — to avoid having to pay the tax due in Spain on his image rights between 2011 and 2014.
His lawyers said there had been a difference in interpretation of what was and was not taxable in Spain.
The deal between Spain’s taxman and his lawyers has allowed Ronaldo to avoid having to sit through a long trial that could have damaged his image and seen him handed a heftier sentence.
Ronaldo is not the only footballer to have fallen foul of Spain’s tax authorities.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, once Ronaldo’s big La Liga rival, paid a two-million-euro fine in 2016 in his own tax wrangle and received a 21-month jail term.
The prison sentence was later reduced to a further fine of 252,000 euros, equivalent to 400 euros per day of the original term.

Accused of rape
But Ronaldo’s legal wrangles won’t be over after a probe was opened in the United States in October after a former American model accused him of raping her in Las Vegas in 2009.
Police in the western US city recently asked Italian authorities for a DNA sample from the footballer.
Ronaldo has always strenuously denied the accusations.
In a New Year’s Eve interview with Portuguese sports daily Record, he said he had a “calm conscience” and was “confident that everything will very soon be clarified.”