A new crop of keepers with eyes on Europe
BY JOHN DUERDEN
Two years ago, Park Ji-sung grabbed headlines when he became the first Asian to play in a Champions League final.
But this year, when his Manchester United team returned to European soccer's biggest stage, his appearance seemed more commonplace.
Asian players like Park, a midfielder, and Atsuto Uchida, a Japanese defender with the German team Schalke 04, which United beat in the semifinals, are not the rarity they once were. They can be found playing in all positions in the major leagues of Europe, except one: goalkeeper.
That situation may be starting to change, albeit slowly.
Few goalkeepers from the east have dipped a gloved thumb into the big ponds of England, Spain, Italy or Germany.
In the season just concluded, Ali Al Habsi was the only No. 1 in regular action, with Wigan Athletic in the English Premier league. The Omani's stellar performances helped Wigan avoid relegation and got him named player of the year for the club.
With outfield players heading from Asia to Europe in any kind of numbers only relatively recently, it is perhaps not surprising that Asian goalkeepers are still rare.
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