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.


Siakam has 30 points, Raptors top Magic 98-93 for 2-1 lead

Updated 20 April 2019

Siakam has 30 points, Raptors top Magic 98-93 for 2-1 lead

  • Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor
  • Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting

ORLANDO, Florida: Pascal Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, Kawhi Leonard added 16 points and the Toronto Raptors held off the Orlando Magic 98-93 on Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting. Leonard had 10 rebounds, Danny Green had 13 points and Kyle Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assist.
Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.
The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.
That being said, they went down swinging.
Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.
Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, and were doomed shortly afterward. Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game again, and that closed the scoring.
Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.
Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half.
Orlando got within one on three occasions in the first half, but never got the lead in the opening 24 minutes. Toronto took a 48-45 lead into the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.
He took off from the Magic logo and released the ball with about a half-second remaining, it hitting the square on the backboard perfectly and dropping through. Ross never broke stride, watching the ball’s flight as he ran and kept going through the tunnel leading to the Magic locker room.
Raptors: Toronto had lost four consecutive Game 3s. ... Patrick McCaw (sprained right thumb) was active, but did not play. ... The Raptors are 6-1 in their last seven road games this season. ... Siakam has 73 points and 30 rebounds in the series.
Magic: Among the former Orlando players in the building were Tracy McGrady, Jameer Nelson and Horace Grant. ... Orlando missed three shots at the rim in one third-quarter possession. Vucevic missed at the rim, and Gordon couldn’t convert on two putback tries. ... Attendance was 19,367, the second-most in the Amway Center’s nine-season history.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s first lady Casey DeSantis were in attendance and received Magic “46” jerseys — a nod to his being the 46th governor of the Sunshine State. The governor and Magic CEO Alex Martins spoke pregame about the hope for Orlando to get another All-Star Game soon, though all through 2022 has already been awarded to other Eastern Conference cities — and Milwaukee, another East city, has expressed interest in 2023.
Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.