‘Beckham, Carlos and Barthez’ star in Asian Cup

DAVID BECKHAM, Roberto Carlos and Fabien Barthez are not players you would normally expect to see at the Asian Cup.

However, no team has left home without one this year.

The ‘Beckham of Uzbekistan’, the ‘Roberto Carlos of Iraq’ and the ‘Barthez of Indonesia’ have all been in action in China.

There are plenty more where they came from, Thailand claiming to have their own ‘Zico’ while tiny Bahrain even have a ‘Pele’ up their sleeve.

The Asian Cup has traditionally struggled for attention, clashing with the European Championship and Olympic Games in the same year.

But the name games being played by some teams at the 2004 Asian Cup have helped prevent the tournament from slipping off the radar completely.

Uzbekistan captain Mirdjalal Kasimov has arguably made the biggest impact among the “wannabe” superstars.

Kasimov has already scored two exquisite free kicks that Beckham would be proud of.

Kasimov has been the ‘Captain Marvel’ of the Asian Cup, propelling Uzbekistan into the quarter-finals.

The worst team at the 2000 Asian Cup, Uzbekistan were the only side to win all three group games this year - largely down to the 33-year-old Kasimov.

Looks-wise, Kasimov and Beckham are worlds apart.

But on the pitch, Kasimov possesses a flair not normally associated with a team humiliated 8-1 by Japan and 5-0 by Saudi Arabia in Lebanon four years ago.

He even talks like Beckham: “We are just taking it one game at a time,” he said, proving football-speak truly is universal.

“It has been terrific for us to come this far.”

Plucky Iraq, who have overcome extreme hardship to reach the Asian Cup quarter-finals, boast their very own Roberto Carlos clone, left-back Bassim Abbas.

With his shaved head and quick feet, his likeness to the Brazilian is striking, although his propensity to dive in and pick up yellow cards is more reminiscent of ex-England international Stuart Pearce.

However, Barthez lookalike Hendro Kartiko took much of the blame after Indonesia crashed out of the tournament in the first round.

Perhaps more worthy of note than the bald goalkeeper is the ‘Pele of Bahrain’, striker Husain Ali, who has scored two goals to lead the Gulf side to the last eight.

Missing the tournament through injury was the ‘Zico of Thailand’ - or the artist formerly known as Kiatisuk Senamuang.

He was hardly missed, however, as the real Zico, now coaching Asian Cup holders Japan, turned up in his place.

Asia does not, of course, have a monopoly on dubious nicknames. Europe has a few of its own, many of them relating to Argentine great Diego Maradona.

Albania’s Edvin Murati is the ‘Maradona of the Balkans’, Turkey’s Emre Belozoglu is the ‘Maradona of the Bosphorus’, while Gheorghe Hagi was the ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’.

Other nicknames are less ambitious.

Southampton striker Marian Pahars has, curiously, been labelled the ‘Georgi Kinkladze of the Baltic’.

There is no lack of ambition at the Asian Cup, however, where Jordan have been trying to convince everyone that they are the ‘Greece of Asia’.

Before the start of the tournament the Asian Football Confederation promised “star quality” and it has delivered - in a manner of speaking.

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