From Shinji Kagawa to Son Heung-Min, here are the starlets who could take Asia by storm in Qatar...Following up from our Top Ten Players to Watch piece, Goal.com brings you the ten bright stars to keep an eye out for when the Asian Cup kicks off.
Again in no particular order, we've endeavoured to bring you a list that encompasses a wide geographic spread.
There's representatives from China, Qatar, the UAE and Japan amongst others, perhaps reflecting the sort of fascinating diversity offered by the continent on the eve of its biggest football event.
With the eyes of European scouts set to be fixated on Qatar over the next month searching for the next Park Ji-Sung or Keisuke Honda, the following are names that could resonate just as strongly in the years to come.
Be sure to run the rule over our selection and bring yourself up to date with Asia's hottest prospects...
Country: Saudi Arabia
One of Saudi Arabia’s most gifted youngsters, given his chance at a young age with giants Al Ittihad that he has seized with both hands. Dangerous in the air, his maiden Asian Cup tournament will raise his profile further. Full of energy and a willing runner, touted as one of the region’s rising stars, he has a habit of scoring important goals.
Position: Attacking Midfielder/Striker
A rare talent to emerge from the Qatari domestic scene in recent years, he shined early on with his club Al Sadd and was named AFC Player of the Year in 2006 at just 18 years of age. He became the first Qatari to win the title since its inception in 1994, the result of being coached by his father and former international Ibrahim Khalfan. Of small stature, he is an extremely quick player and adept dribbler.
Of a tender age, Khalil plays the game as if he were a seasoned veteran. Played in the Gulf Cup at the age of 18, top scoring in the 2005 edition of the tournament. Led his country to victory at the 2008 AFC U-19 Championships, where he was named best player and again won the golden boot. Considered a crucial part of the current UAE side, boasts pace and physical strength that makes him a handful for defenders.
Country: South Korea
Needs no introduction after bursting onto the scene with Hamburg, establishing himself as one of South Korea and the Bundesliga’s rising stars. Manager Cho Kwang-Rae barely had a chance to look at the prodigious talent before including him in his Asian Cup squad and with good reason: Franz Beckenbauer says he has the potential to be the next Cha Bum Kun.
Educated by former China international and then national team manager Xu Genbao, he is a versatile player capable of being deployed almost anywhere on the pitch. A natural born leader, in November he transferred to recently promoted outfit Guangzhou Evergrande for almost six million dollars US. Called up to the national team by Gao Hongbo despite playing for a second tier club at the time of his debut.
Country: South Korea
One of the brightest talents in the English Premier League, Lee has made a superb start to life at Bolton and has left his mark on the national team as well, starring at the 2010 World Cup and netting in his country's Last 16 defeat to Uruguay. Technically gifted, explosive and energetic, his high work-rate is reminiscent of another famous Korean winger who plies his trade in the same league. Will be a key man in Qatar.
Position: Central Midfielder, Winger
Started out as a defender but is now considered a central midfielder, he is equally adept out wide as either a full back or winger. His impressive performances for India’s U-19s side caught the eye of Bob Houghton and made his debut against Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup. Hoping for a start at the tournament, his work rate and versatility could come in handy.
A hot prospect who is known for his pace and vision, he is among the domestic league’s top scorers with nine goals this season. The youngest member of Afshin Ghotbi’s squad, he gained invaluable experience at the 2010 Asian Games. Afshin is a known fan of Brazilian striker Ronaldo and he might just provide the X-Factor in an Iran team short on goal scoring options.
Position: Attacking Midfielder, Winger
Looks the most likely of Australia’s contingent of young players to get game time in Qatar and if he does, he’ll be looking to carry momentum from a breakthrough season with AEK Athens. Burns made his name with A-League side Adelaide United but an initially difficult time in Europe saw his career stutter, though taking part in Qatar is a big boost. Combines balance, technique and speed, three qualities not common amongst even his more prestigious teammates.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
This list really wouldn’t be complete without the Borussia Dortmund man, who has made headlines on almost a weekly basis in the Bundesliga. His country’s most exciting prospect at present, Kagawa is the complete package; an excellent finisher, incisive dribbler and possessing an intelligence and vision beyond his years, you sense that Japan’s hopes of winning the tournament might just hinge on his performances. If he fires, there might not be any stopping them.