Yuto Nagatomo (LB, Japan): Probably the tournament’s best player, it was entirely appropriate that the left back set up Tandanari Lee for the extra time winner against Australia in the final. His surging runs forward from deep were a hallmark of Japan’s attacking play and his contributions were telling. Not only did he create goals but he also prevented them, often covering for his defenders and making timely interceptions at the back.
Lucas Neill (CB, Australia): A virtually flawless campaign from the Galatasaray centre-back save for a lapse in concentration against South Korea during the group stages. Neill led his country at the back superbly, organizing his defence and always creating space to play the ball out rather than mindlessly hack it away. Balanced strength with guile and if this is to be his last meaningful contribution in an Australian jersey, he’ll be glad to know it was one of his best.
Odil Ahmedov (CB, Uzbekistan): One of the surprise stars of the tournament, he was a rock at the back for Uzbekistan. On top of carrying out his defensive duties, was always a threat going forward, netting two goals during the group stages including a cracking long-range strike against hosts Qatar in the opening match. Technically gifted, distributed intelligently from the back and even during the 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Australia turned in a decent performance.
Cha Du-Ri (RB, South Korea): Far and away the best right-back of the tournament, though his performance dropped in the semi final against Japan his contributions in the other matches can’t be ignored. The Celtic man gave his team a physical presence at the back that was crucial and his standout display came in the group stages against Australia, where he nullified the threat of Cahill. At every opportunity looked to bomb forward and give his team another dimension in attack.
Matt McKay (LM, Australia): Transformed the Australian side during the knockout stages with his fluent short passing game and tireless running, McKay was one of the revelations of the AsianCup. Provided the inch-perfect angled cross for Harry Kewell to head home the winner against Iraq during the quarter finals before tearing about the Uzbeks by laying on three goals during the semi, it’s a shame he fluffed his lines early on against Japan because it would have been a goal deserving of his efforts. Not one of Australia’s European stars but was still the standout Socceroo.
Makoto Hasebe (CM, Japan): The heartbeat of this Japanese team, Hasebe was instrumental in Japan’s victories. Alongside Yasuhito Endo he provided the bite in midfield but also displayed a cultured passing game. When Japan struggled during the group stages it was Hasebe driving them forward from midfield, trying to wrestle back momentum on his own. Laid the foundation for the more creative players in the side to flourish with his uncompromising style and high work-rate. His team’s most consistent player in Qatar, he turned in six excellent performances.
Koo Ja-Cheol (CM, South Korea): Playing in an advanced role, he finished the tournament’s top scorer with five goals. What he offered in the way of movement and passing too can’t be ignored but it was his exploits in front of goal that were crucial given the absence of regular striker Park Chu-Young. His effort in that gruelling semi-final against Japan summed up what was an outstanding tournament for the Jeju United player, with a European move beckoning.
Server Djeparov (RM, Uzbekistan): The former AFC Player of the Year built on a superb season with FC Seoul by leading his country into the semi finals of the Asian Cup for the first time ever. His talent was on display in Qatar, where he pulled the strings for Uzbekistan whether playing just behind the striker or in a wider area. Netted one of the goals of the tournament in his side’s 2-1 win over Kuwait, sweeping the ball home from outside the penalty area with a first-time effort.
Shinji Okazaki (ST, Japan): Scored a hat-trick against Saudi Arabia to fire his team into the knockout stages but that was only one of many contributions he made. As a substitute against Jordan and Syria in Japan’s opening two matches he came on and changed the game when his team were in deep trouble, his intelligent movement and aggressive running on the ball unsettling defenders. Unlucky not to have added a couple of more goals to his name, he proved he should be a regular starter with his dynamic performances.
Harry Kewell (ST, Australia): Turned back the clock and put a disastrous 2010 World Cup behind him, scoring three goals and leading the line for Australia superbly at the tournament. Unfortunate that he missed chances against Japan in the final that ultimately came back to haunt his team but really, if it wasn’t for Kewell they wouldn’t have made it there. Answered the scrutiny about his age and fitness in the best way possible, his hold-up play was instrumental to the extent that he outperformed strike partner and usual hero Tim Cahill.
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