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TOP 5 ASIAN CUP GOALKEEPERS

Mathew Ryan (Socceroos)

When Mark Schwarzer retired from international football in 2013, it heralded a new opportunity for Australian goalkeepers. Schwarzer had been the first on the team sheet for at least five years for the Socceroos, but with a mandate to regenerate the squad, new coach Ange Postecoglou has backed young goalkeepers Mat Ryan and Mitch Langerak for the new era. Ryan made his name at Central Coast Mariners, playing three seasons with the small club north of Sydney between 2010-13. During that time he won an A-League championship and a premiership and was twice named A-League young player of the year. He has also twice won the FFA U-20 player of the year title and the Joe Marston medal for best player in the 2010-11 A-League grand final. Having won everything there was on offer in Australia, Ryan moved to Belgian Pro League giants Club Brugge. Incredibly in his first season with the club he won the award for best goalkeeper in the league. For the national team Ryan started every game in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and looks set to do the same in the AFC Asian Cup on home soil in 2015.


Waleed Abdullah(Saudi Arabia)

The tall, gangly Waleed Abdullah is a distinctive figure in between the posts for Saudi Arabia. Joining the national team in 2007, Abdullah also made several appearances with the Olympic squad. A one club man with Riyadh-based Al-Shabab, Abdullah appeared in every game for Saudi Arabia in their runners-up finish in the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations. After keeping two consecutive clean sheets against Bahrain and Yemen, Abdullah conceded two goals in a tense 3-2 victory over United Arab Emirates before conceding two more in the final against Qatar. At 28 years of age, the AFC Asian Cup in Australia will be Abdullah’s second consecutive continental championship. The Green Falcons will hope to do a lot better than their last campaign, where they bowed out at the first round without a point.

Ali Al-Habsi (Oman )

A legend of Oman football, Ali Al-Habsi is ready to make his third AFC Asian Cup appearance in January. A giant of a man, captain Al-Habsi is the perfect build for a goalkeeper. He stands at 6 ft 5 in, with huge hands and an enormous reach. Having won goalkeeper of the tournament at the last four Gulf Cups, it was an interesting journey for Al-Habsi to find himself between the sticks. As a child he played as a striker, but a switch to goalkeeper has seen him find fame in England with Bolton Wanderers, Wigan and most recently Brighton and Hove Albion. With 92 international appearances to his name, Al-Habsi might be able to nudge closer to 100 caps by helping his team reach the finals of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. As the only European-based player in Paul Le Guen’s squad, plenty of responsibility will fall on his broad shoulders.

Eiji Kawashima( Japan)

Japan has never been known for it’s production of goalkeepers, but Eiji Kawashima breaks the mould. With over 50 caps for the Samurai Blue, Kawashima is firmly established as the number one choice between the posts. Kawashima played for three clubs in the J-League before making his national team debut in 2008. As is so often the case, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010 put him in the shop-window, and he was soon signed by Belgian side Lierse. In 2012 he moved to Standard Liege, who won the Belgian League in 2013-14 and currently sit second on the ladder in the 2014-15 season.
For the national team Kawashima played a decisive role in helping Japan win the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. In a dramatic semi-final against rivals Korea Republic, he saved not one but two penalties in the shootout to ensure Japan’s place in the final. And then, in a tense 1-0 victory over Australia in the final, Kawashima was awarded man of the match after keeping a clean sheet. With a new coach in Javier Aguirre, there have been more than a few changes to the national team set-up. However, come the AFC Asian Cup in 2015 Kawashima will still be the number one pick in goals.

Alireza Haghighi(Iran)

Haghighi was a standout for Team Melli at the 2014 World Cup earlier in the year. He became the first Iranian goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in a FIFA World Cup, and he amazed audiences against Argentina by keeping them at bay until the 91st minute of the match. The 26-year-old goalkeeper has represented Iran at every age level, playing at a couple of AFC Youth Championships before being called up by Afshin Ghotbi in 2010.

Haghighi has been a goalkeeper to keep an eye on for some time. He made his debut for Persepolis at just 18 years of age, and incredibly he saved a penalty from the legendary Ali Daei. It was a statement of the young man’s talent, and less than a decade on great things are expected of him. Haghighi moved abroad in 2012, joining Russian club Rubin Kazan before returning on loan to Persepolis after struggling for game time. Iranian goalkeepers are not common in Europe, but soon he moved back to sign for Portuguese side Sporting Covilha, where he helped them avoid relegation in 2014. Still contracted with Rubin Kazan, Haghighi then moved to Penafiel after the World Cup. Ranked as the highest seed in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, the young goalkeeper will hope to lead Team Melli to their fourth continental title.


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