5 Arab footballers to watch at the Asian Cup
Asia's biggest football stars have descended on the UAE for the region's biggest sporting event- the Asian Cup 2019, this time with the UAE as its host.
First held in 1956, the tournament is the second oldest continental football championship in the world, behind only the Copa America.
The 2019 edition kicks off this Saturday, January 5, with host nation UAE facing off against Bahrain.
Although not quite as all-consuming as the FIFA World Cup, it is definitely set to create some regional rivalry and tense moments as Asia's biggest football names battle to be crowned regional champion.
So, we at Esquire Middle East have decided to give you the lowdown on five players from the Arab world to watch out for over the next month.
1. Omar Al Soma, Syria, 29
29-year-old Omar Al-Soma is going to be a force to reckon with. After coming devastatingly close to help Syria qualify for the Fifa World Cup, Al-Soma is all set to help his country make it out of the knock-out stage for the first time ever.
The striker - who plays in the Saudi Arabian professional league for Al Ahli - was the reigning top scorer for three years running, between 2014 and 2017.
2. Ali Mabkhout, UAE, 28
In 2015, Ali Mabkhout took home the coveted 'Golden Boot' award at the Asian Cup after helping UAE bag a place in the semi-finals. He also made it into the history books after recording the fastest goal in Asian Cup history, putting one behind in the net just 14 seconds into the UAE’s group stage win against Bahrain.
The hopes of a nation rest on his shoulders, after attacking midfeilder Omar Abdulrahman has been ruled out from the tournament after an injury.
The last time the UAE made it to an Asian Cup final was in 1996, coincidently the last time the UAE hosted the tournament as well. Can they go the distance this time around? We certainly hope so.
3. Salem Al Dawsari, Saudi Arabia, 27
Quite possibly Saudi Arabia's most prolific player, Al Dawsari was the star of their 2018 World Cup campaign. The footballer is perhaps best known internationally for his last-minute goal which helped Saudi Arabia beat Egypt 2-1 in their final game of the World Cup.
The Al-Hilal mid-fielder is definitely going to produce some firworks on the pitch. The last time Saudi Arabia won the Asian Cup was in 1996. 23 years later, will it go home to them once again? It definitely depends on Al Dawsari.
4. Musa Al-Taamari, Jordan, 21
Musa Al-Taamari, who usually plays for Cyprus football giants APOEL, is one of the most well-known names on the Jordanian team. The mid-fielder signed a three year contract with the Cypriot club on May 28, 2018.
Considering Jordan's best performance in the Asian Cup was then they reached the quarter-finals in 2011 and 2004, all eyes will be on the young star. In the group with Jordan are current reigning champions Australia and regional rivals Syria and Palestine.
5. Ali Adnan, Iraq, 25
Ali Adnan made history in 2015 when he became the first Iraqi ever to play in Serie A and now plays for Italia Serie A side Atalanta. He graduated from the Ammo Baba Football School before being picked up by Baghdad FC and was also awarded the 2013 Asian Young Footballer of the Year accolade.
He went viral after being pictured sporting a bulletproof vest, embracing Iraqi soldiers at a time when government forces were involved in intense clashes to retake the city of Mosul.
Adnan's performances at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey played a big role in Iraq U-20's fairytale run to the semi-finals. Will he recreate the same magic for the Iraqi side this time around?