Cover Son Heung Min of South Korea (Photo: Getty Images)

These rising stars from Asia are ready to prove their mettle at the world's biggest football event

This year's World Cup in Qatar is particularly exciting for a number of reasons. It is the first World Cup after Covid-19 pandemic restrictions have been lifted. Qatar is the first Middle Eastern country to host the global competition. It is also the first time the World Cup is held during the winter season.

Brazil, Belgium and Argentina are some of the top squads to watch at the World Cup this year but we also have our eyes on these five Asian players.

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Son Heung Min, South Korea

Arguably the biggest Asian football star at the moment, Son Heung Min plays Tottenham Hotspur F.C. in the Premier League and has been pivotal in the re-emergence of South Korea as a force to reckon with on the international football scene.

After the retirement of legends Park Jisung and Lee Youngpyo, the nation's football team encountered a period of turbulence and instability no thanks to a revolving door of coaches that contributed to the failure of many promising players fulfilling their potential.

Enter Son, who broke the mould by becoming the first Asian footballer to win a Premier League Golden Boot award in the 2021-22 season. Despite a recent injury, fans still hold out hope to catch Son in peak performance at the World Cup.

See also: Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-Min Becomes the First Asian Golden Boot Winner

Kim Min Jae, South Korea

Thanks to Kim Min Jae, Italian Serie A side Napoli was back on top for the first time since the departure of star centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly. Kim, a towering figure at 1.9m, successfully tamed the wrath of strikers like Liverpool FC and Egypt's Mohamed Salah. The centre-back was named Serie A's Player of the Month just two months into his career in Italy.

He missed the last World Cup due to injury, so this will be his debut at the World Cup. The world, in particular South Korea, will be watching closely.

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Takehiro Tomiyasu, Japan

At 23, Takehiro Tomiyasu has the finesse and maturity of a player beyond his years. In his second year at Arsenal, Tomiyasu has proven to be a formidable presence in defence. He got his start in European football at the age of 19.

Standing at 1.88 metres tall, getting a ball through Tomiyasu will prove to be a challenge for even the most experienced strikers. His successful stint at Arsenal makes the Japanese Blue Samurai centre-back an exciting player to watch alongside fellow defender and captain of the Japanese team, Maya Yoshida.

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Takefusa Kubo, Japan

Another Japanese superstar, Takefusa Kubo, 21, spent his younger days with Spanish giant Barcelona and made his J.League debut at the age of 16. Born in Kanagawa, Kubo spent so much time in Spain that he is actually fluent in the Spanish language! 

The quick-footed attacking midfielder did his Japanese fans proud at last year's Tokyo Olympics in the U-23 team and has also been impressing fans in Europe with his club team, Real Sociedad. Kubo's playing style displays remarkable intelligence, a fact that resulted in a brilliant performance at La Liga, one of toughest football leagues. 

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Akram Afif, Qatar

The host nation's Akram Afif is one of the Qatar Football Association's star players who is stellar in the left-winger position. However, this versatile player does well on both the left and right wing, and uses his wide-ranging experience in the European football, including a stint at La Liga club Villareal, to his advantage on the pitch.

Currently a player for Qatari club Al Sadd, Afif has been voted best player in the Qatar Stars League and won the Asian Football Confederation's best player award in 2019. His long passes are admirable with an uncanny ability to read the game and create chances.

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