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Head to Head:
Life after Suarez

Liverpool Jul 16, 2014
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 Posted by John Duerden
May 31, 2014

Ten of Asia's World Cup heroes

Belgium's players were powerless to stop Saeed Al-Owairan in full flight.
Belgium's players were powerless to stop Saeed Al-Owairan in full flight.

There may not yet have been an Asian winner of the World Cup but the continent has provided many heroes of the tournament's history. ESPNFC chooses ten that have made their mark...

Saeed Al-Owairan (Saudi Arabia 1994, 1998)

When you are playing at your first World Cup, every moment is going to be special -- but nobody was prepared for what happened in 1994. The Green Falcons started well, narrowly losing 2-1 to the Netherlands before bouncing back to defeat Morocco. The stage was set and what a stage it was -- RFK Stadium in Washington -- with the opposition a previously undefeated Belgium team.

The Red Devils were full of confidence after defeating both the Dutch and the North Africans but were as shocked as the rest of the world after five minutes. Al-Owairan picked up the ball well inside his own half, and beat five men to score what was not only the winner, but the goal that put the Saudis into the second round.

"It was the best goal I ever scored in my life. I scored it for every Saudi person in the world, for every Arab," said the man who went on to become the 1994 Asian Footballer of the Year.

That was as good as it got (though there's nothing wrong with that) and a few years later, Al-Owairan found himself in a Saudi jail, reportedly for drinking with friends during Ramadan, subsequently telling the New York Times he was tired of seeing that goal. Outside Belgium, he must be the only one.

Hong Myung-bo (South Korea 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002)

South Korea's coach has played more World Cup games as an individual than any Asian nation except the one he captained to the semi-final of the 2002 tournament -- this is a man whose name will be on the 2064 version of this list.

It was fitting that the charismatic centre-back bowed out after leading the team to the semi-finals in 2002. But as well as the winning penalty against Spain in the quarter-finals, Hong has plenty of other World Cup memories. There was that stunner against Germany in 1994 as Korea almost staged the most dramatic of comebacks.

It shouldn't be forgotten that Hong has been closer to lifting the World Cup than any Asian.

Pak Doo Ik (North Korea 1966)

"What a sensation," said the BBC commentator. And for once, there was no exaggeration.

It is testament to his heroics that Pak remains a serious hero despite being a resident of the most secretive state in the world. And rightly so. He was responsible for the first ever win by an Asian team at the World Cup but that wasn't just it. The result was one of the biggest shocks in football.

A -- literally unknown -- 1000 to one shot defeating a genuine giant of the game and Pak, nicknamed 'The Yellow Pearl', shot the Chollima into the quarter-final stage. Italy had, and missed, chances at Middlesbrough but with five minutes of the first half left, the legendary Azzurri defence misjudged a bouncing ball. Pak did not and darted into the danger zone to fire into the bottom corner.

Hamid Estili (Iran 1998)

"I didn't know what to do. I was running and smiling and crying at the same time," Hamad Estili told Iranian media in 2006 of his goal against the United States at the 1998 World Cup. Arms out, mouth wide open, eyes almost closed, it is one of the iconic Asian football images.

This was Iran's second World Cup and given the relationship between the two countries, it was perhaps the game they wanted to win more than any other. No Iranian will ever forget how time stopped still, how the player rose and rose near the edge of the box and nodded a looping, beautiful header that gave the US keeper no chance. Estili then, along with eighty million of his countrymen, went crazy. And he had every right to go crazy. "That moment was the most exciting moment of my life."

Nasser Hejazi (Iran 1978)

The godfather of modern Asian goalkeepers, the Eagle of Asia and a giant of a man in more ways than one, Hejazi may have conceded seven goals at the 1978 World Cup but he impressed in Argentina when placed in a tough group containing Netherlands, Peru and Scotland.

It should be kept in mind that four of the seven were penalties and one was an own goal. His quiet authority persuaded Manchester United, searching for a successor to the long-serving Alex Stepney, to invite him for a trial. He impressed enough to be offered a permanent deal but was beaten by administrative issues that followed the Islamic Revolution.

Hejazi went on to have a fine career and became an equally important figure off the pitch when his playing days ended.

Ahn Jung-hwan (South Korea 2002, 2006)

Scorer of the most glittering of golden goals, there can be few players anywhere to make such an impact at the World Cup -- how many have been the subject of questions asked in British Parliament?

The reason was that goal against Italy at the 2002 World Cup. 1-1 in extra time and the Lord of the Rings rose above Paolo Maldini to head his country into the quarter-finals. So angry were the Europeans that Luciano Guacci, the owner of Perugia, Ahn's club in Serie A, reportedly sacked the new scourge of Italian football.

Nobody in Korea cared -- it just added to the excitement -- as rarely can a goal have caused such hysteria. It was perhaps fitting that Ahn's European career never really took off but he finished his time in the west with the winning goal for South Korea against Togo in 2006 -- the country's first World Cup victory on foreign soil.

South Korea's Ahn Jung-Hwan scored the winner against Italy in their 2002 World Cup second-round game at the Daejeon World Cup stadium in Daejeon, South Korea, to advance to the quarterfinals.
South Korea's Ahn Jung-Hwan scored the winner against Italy in their 2002 World Cup second-round game at the Daejeon World Cup stadium in Daejeon, South Korea, to advance to the quarterfinals.

Keisuke Honda (Japan 2010)

Arsene Wenger said that Honda was the best player of the 2010 World Cup up until the time that Japan exited at the second round stage. He had the much-maligned Jabulani dancing to his tune from the off and after scoring the winner against Cameroon -- Japan's first World Cup victory overseas -- his silver boots were sending the ball bending around the Denmark wall to great effect.

He wasn't exactly an unknown quantity going into South Africa, he had already scored in the UEFA Champions League, but in driving Japan to their best World Cup yet, Honda became a global star.

Sami Al Jaber (Saudi Arabia 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006)

It is a travesty that this striker is sometimes introduced by the international media as a former Wolverhampton Wanderers reserve striker -- the Al Hilal boss is a legend. The Eagle was one of Asia's top predators for years and scored at three different World Cups, 1994, 1998 and 2006.

One of a very select group of Asian stars to appear on the global stage four times, Al Jaber was a real go-to-guy for Saudi football for over a decade. He deserves a bigger and better reputation outside his home region.

Park Ji-sung (2002, 2006, 2010)

One of the sad things about Park's decision to retire from the game is that there will not be a fourth appearance at the World Cup and no chance to score at a fourth consecutive tournament. He scored a fine goal at 2002 against Portugal to send the Taeguk Warriors to the second round and the country into dreamland, he equalized against eventual finalist France four years later and then, as captain, sealed the win against Greece in South Africa.

A real leader for his country on the world stage and it was testament to the kind of player he was that the bigger the game, the better he played. One of the very few Asians to go to the knockout stage twice.

Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan 1998, 2002, 2006)

The midfielder did what no Asian player had ever managed to do -become a star in Serie A and he was there when it mattered for his country in the Samurai Blue's first steps on the world stage. 1998 brought three narrow defeats but laid the foundation for that heady summer of 2002 when Japan co-hosted, won a first game at the World Cup and reached the second round.

Nakata didn't always enjoy the smoothest relationship with Philippe Troussier but the Frenchman said his favourite moment of the entire tournament was when Nakata headed home against Tunisia and Japan knew they were going to the second round. Heading into the 2006 World Cup, Nakata was vocal in his calls for more intensity and focus from the Samurai Blue. It didn't end well and Japan were heading home and the career of this icon was over but what a career it was.

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