Qatar's record-breaking Almoez Ali leads Asian Cup Team of the Tournament
It's all over. Qatar lifted the 2019 Asian Cup on Friday, defeating Japan 3-1 in the final, and will be almost as proud at dominating ESPN's team of the tournament.
Here are our 11 best performers from Asia's premier tournament:
GK: Alireza Beiranvand (Iran)
The Iranian goalkeeper impressed at the 2018 World Cup and in the 2018 AFC Champions League and carried on where he left off in 2019. The highlight of the tournament was a second-minute penalty save against Oman in the second round. The No. 1 helped Iran reach the last four without conceding a goal. It all went wrong in the 3-0 semifinal loss to Japan, but the Persepolis man left the United Arab Emirates with a considerable reputation enhanced even further.
LB: Abdelkarim Hassan (Qatar)
When Abdelkarim Hassan was named as the AFC Player of 2018, there were the usual mutterings. To be honest, there were others -- such as Beiranvand -- who were better shouts, but if the left-back carries on in this form in helping Qatar win a major prize then more individual awards could be coming his way. The 25-year-old got forward well all tournament and didn't put a foot wrong at the back.
DF: Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan)
It was a toss-up before the final between Takehiro Tomiyasu and Maya Yoshida, but the Southampton defender had 90 minutes to forget on Friday. The 20 year-old probably would have shaded it anyway. The Avispa Fukuoka man only made his international debut at the end of August and was perhaps the best performing defender in the entire tournament and was everywhere against Iran in the semifinal. His header also knocked out Saudi Arabia.
DF: Bassam Al-Rawi (Qatar)
The fact that Qatar didn't concede a single goal on the way to a final was surely a team effort, but this 21-year-old did plenty. Bassam Al-Rawi grew into the role as the tournament progressed and looked assured in possession and dealt with some of Asia's best attackers with little trouble. The centre-back also showed his prowess with set pieces, both in defence and especially in attack.
RB: Rhyan Grant (Australia)
Rhyan Grant made headlines before the tournament kicked-off as he had to seek approval from the AFC for his striking "mullet" hairstyle. Although the Socceroos bowed out in the quarterfinals, the Sydney FC right-back deserved more attention for his performances and impressive work-rate in the Middle East. Grant never stopped trying to get forward to support the attack before getting back into position.
DM: Gaku Shibasaki (Japan)
The 26-year-old midfielder not at his best in the final without Wataru Endo to help out, but Gaku Shibasaki ensured that Japan's midfield stayed ticking over for the most of January, denying space and time to the opposition and starting a few attacks of his own. Not a player to make headlines but made a difference and some new fans as the Samurai Blue reached the final. He's also pretty handy with a dead ball.
DM: Boualem Khoukhi (Qatar)
A coach's dream -- the Algerian-born talent can play pretty much anywhere. At times during the tournament Boualem Khoukhi was in defence, in midfield or out wide. The 28-year-old has shown in the past that he has the ability to score plenty of goals, but in the Asian Cup he plugged pretty much whatever hole needed to be plugged and was consistently excellent. It was noticeable that Qatar had their most difficult period of the tournament when Khoukhi went off injured in the final.
LM: Akram Afif (Qatar)
Akram Afif's European education has showed itself on the pitch where he has been adept at finding space and creating chances and goals --lots of chances and goals. Somehow, despite managing an incredible 10 assists, Afif's decision-making is still not always the best. However, at just 22 years old, there is plenty of time to improve that side of his game. When he does, the world better watch out.
CM: Hwang In-beom (South Korea)
The Taeguk Warriors did not have the best of tournaments, but Hwang In-beom cemented his growing reputation with a series of authoritative performances in the middle of the pitch. Creative and intelligent, it wasn't down to the 22 year-old that the team could not take their chances. During January, was chased by a number of European clubs before being snapped up by Vancouver Whitecaps for a price not far short of $2 million.
RM: Ashkan Dejagah (Iran)
Iranian fans and players will find it hard to look past that 3-0 loss to Japan in the semifinal but, as time passes, the memories of a fine run to the last four will push through. There were some standout performances from Team Melli and the well-travelled Ashkan Dejagah was the driving force. He was a strong physical presence on the right side of UAE stadiums, giving a number of full-backs a torrid time and putting plenty of fine balls into the area.
FW: Almoez Ali (Qatar)
The 22-year-old started scoring after nine minutes of the first game and never stopped. It was all leading up to his strike in the final. It was special, not just because he received the ball with his back to goal with Yoshida at his back, and not just because there were two flicks in the air and then a bicycle kick into the far corner. It was special as it was a ninth goal in the competition, beating Ali Daei's 1996 record. Top scorer, tournament MVP and now a genuine star -- it has been a dream month for Almoez Ali.