AFCON and the AFC Asia Cups are great celebrations of the world’s game that shine a light on stars that may be unknown. Underdogs thrive as the world’s attention gets drawn towards these fascinating events. Among the potential breakout players are some of the Prem’s best, who may use these events to build on their club season.
January is always an awkward time to host international tournaments. Leagues are entering their most important stretch and any injury or absence can tank a season.
It’s unfair to the players and fans to discredit these tournaments as below their European and South American counterparts. They’re the pinnacle of their respective region’s football. Every edition of these tournaments create a sense of excitement that those watching are enthralled with.
Across both tournaments, 40 Premier League players will compete for the respective trophies. Almost all clubs have players absent due to these tournaments, meaning any and all absences will be felt. Those attending will be using this absence to not only bring glory to their nations, but solidify their roles at the club level.
From stars to youngsters, these tournaments will be the stage that all will perform on. All football fans need to keep their eyes on these celebrations.
South Korea surprised many at the 2022 World Cup by finishing second ahead of Uruguay. Now, they enter the Asia Cup as one of the top contenders.
Kim Ji-soo is an exciting prospect that currently plays for Brentford. Although he has yet to feature for Brentford, Jürgen Klinsmann handed him an opportunity to compete in Qatar. The 19 year old will not be a headliner for the quad, but will get a run.
If South Korea’s campaign goes according to plan, Kim Ji-soo will almost certainly feature in the third group stage game. This will likely be a rest game, if South Korea qualifies for the next phase, and the center back will get a chance. Against a middling Malaysian side, Kim Ji-soo could showcase the potential that Brentford believe he has.
Very much a modern center back, Kim Ji-soo is a tall and quick defender who is comfortable with the ball at his feet. If any sort of injury takes out Jeong Seung-Hyeon or Kim Min-jae, the youngster will get his chance. Additionally, Klinsmann may decide that the youthful energy he brings could help an older defense compete against the faster sides.
Both Brentford and the South Korean set up clearly have faith in the 19 year old and this tournament could give him his much needed platform. It’s unlikely that he will break into the Brentford squad, but a good showing could open the door an inch.
One of the most dominating players of the Dutch league over the past few years, Sangaré surprised many when he chose Nottingham Forest as his next home. Some of Europe’s top clubs sniffed around for the midfielder, only for him to join a club less competitive than PSV.
With Didier Drogba and the Touré brothers, the Ivory Coast played high level football and found themselves as one of Africa’s best sides. Since the mid 2010s, the Elephants have become irrelevant in the African landscape. Sangaré is the star of this middling Ivorian side.
Sangaré imposes his will on the midfield, cutting passing lanes and unleashing the offense. Last year with PSV, he showed an ability to be an efficient passer who used his size to punish opponents. His ability to dictate the tempo of his side pushed PSV to a successful two year period.
Moving to Nottingham made little sense to any followers of Sangaré, given the club’s standing last season. Forest are an unexciting side that are more likely to get relegated than finish top ten. On top of that, Sangaré has barely played and when he has, there are barely any shades of the player he was.
AFCON will give Sangaré a chance to audition for a larger club. It’ll give him a chance to remind the world of just how good he can be.
Out of all the players mentioned, Kudus is likely the most recognizable. The forward has taken like a duck to water after his move to the Prem.
Kudus is yet another gem to come from the Ajax talent pipeline and find success abroad. Moyes unlocked this West Ham side by entrusting so much of its attack to Kudus. In the Netherlands, the Ghanaian was more of a creator, but in the Prem, he’s scoring for fun.
Even in their second game, Kudus was the heartbeat for the Ghanaian side that almost beat Salah’s Egypt. In that game, he scored a great brace and is already looking like the star of the tournament. Despite his breakout, Ghana is still bottom of their group and will need Kudus at his best to find a way out.
Clubs will be watching every Ghana game with eager eyes to see the talented winger shred opponents. Even if Ghana fails to move on, Kudus made his name known just by that performance against Egypt. A move is unlikely to materialize in the winter window, but watch for who comes for him in the summer.
West Ham was the perfect destination move for Kudus, but his time there may soon be over. Combining his performances thus far in the Prem with his AFCON time, clubs will come circling.
AFCON and the Asia Cup are some of the best tournaments that football has to offer. They allow fans across the globe to view great football with players they may not know. As both tournaments circle the knockout stages, now is the time to get in on these players and teams.
Featured image: AP