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Asia 50, Part III: A brand new No.1

We’ve reached the end of this year’s countdown and our top 10 features players performing in almost all corners of the globe. Read on to discover our 10 best Asian footballers from the past 12 months…

Countdown continues…
*See who made No.50 to No.31*
*See who made No.30 to No.11*

No.10 Ki Sung-Yeung

It is impressive and often overlooked that this classy midfielder is approaching the eight-year mark in Europe. Not many Asian players stay out west for so long.

Even better is the fact that he rarely misses a game for his country. The 28-year-old is close to joining the century club on the international stage and that is some serious miles, travelling from South Wales to East Asia and plenty of places in between.

Injuries and issues at Swansea have meant that this English Premier League season has not been his best at the Liberty Stadium and a relegation battle wasn’t the ideal stage for a cultured talent like Ki.

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He is however close to leading the Taeguk Warriors to a ninth successive World Cup appearance.

A third personal bow on the global stage while still short of his thirties would be another fine achievement in an already fine career. – John Duerden

No.9 Wu Lei

It is now the stuff of legend that Wu Lei was a child prodigy, making his professional debut in the lower divisions of Chinese football before his 15th birthday.

Former China national team coach Xu Genbao also famously once labelled him “China’s Maradona”, a daunting prospect for any young player.

But the Shanghai SIPG standout has lived up to the hype. Now 25 years old, he is already his club’s all-time leading scorer and a mainstay in the national set-up.

“I think I am player who uses his head,” he has said in the past. ”I not only have hunger but also a good nose for goal, so I can usually find chances to score.

“I like looking for opportunities in front of goal and beating defenders with agility and pace.”

He has continued to excel this season under new SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas, plundering five goals already for a Shanghai outfit that is contending for the league title.

As seen in the video below, he also scored a superb goal in the Asian Champions League against Western Sydney Wanderers on May 10 after just 21 seconds – the third fastest goal in the competition’s history. – Tio Utomo

No.8 Ahmed Khalil

European football had been beckoning Ahmed, but the 25-year-old Emirati decided to hold off venturing too far from home just yet, signing for Al-Jazira instead for a reported fee of AED18 million (S$6.8 million) per year to make him among the highest paid footballers in the country.

It ends a long association with UAE giants Al-Ahli, with the 2015 Asian player of the year – the first Emirati to win the continent’s premier individual honour – slated to join the ‘Pride of Abu Dhabi’ on September 1.

There were reports linking him to La Liga trio Deportivo La Coruna, Granada and Espanyol, as well as Serie A’s Fiorentina and Primeira Liga giants Benfica, largely because of his abilities in front of goal.

He has scored 15 goals already in the UAE’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, including the brace that sunk Japan 2-1 at Saitama Stadium in September.

Among the nine international goals he scored in 2016 were a hat-trick against Bulgaria in a friendly in November. – Vijhay Vick

No.7 Reza Ghoochanneghad

The Dutch club with the famous red hearts on its crest has well and truly fallen in love with its Iranian forward, who has powered Heerenveen towards a top-half finish and produced plenty of goals along the way.

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Playing in front of Japan’s Yuki Kobayashi, the Iranian born, Dutch-raised Ghoochanneghad has sparkled in his second spell at the club where he began his career, his direct approach and clinical finishing making him a standout for the northern side.

Five goals in the club’s final seven league matches helped keep them competitive after they stumbled from mid-season onwards and his 19 goals across the Eredivisie season were not only a personal high, but also had him ranked as the third-highest scorer in one of Europe’s top leagues.

All that in addition to his continuing standout performances for Team Melli and it’s clear that ‘Gucci’ is a very worthy entrant in our top 10. – Scott McIntyre

No.6 Genki Haraguchi

The last 12 months have marked something of a coming of age for a player that far too often flies under the radar.

Not only a nailed-on regular for Japan but now also one of the first names picked, the versatile 26-year-old almost single handedly revived his nation’s flagging World Cup hopes with key goals against Thailand, Iraq, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Those goals, in the space of just two months, saw him become the first Japanese player in history to score in four consecutive final-round qualifiers and continued on from yet another solid season with his club.

Hertha have been in and around the top six in the Bundesliga all season and whilst Haraguchi has played in a wider role on the right than he does for his nation, he’s still been a regular contributor.

Featuring in 30 of his team’s league’s matches, he has earned strong reviews for his vision, passing and poise on the ball. – Scott McIntyre

No.5 Aaron Mooy

It has been another 12 months to remember for this very highly regarded Australian.

Picking up the PFA Footballer of the Year award in 2015/16 for his efforts with Melbourne City, the Sydneysider then earned a three-year contract with English giants Manchester City.

He then spent the past 12 months on loan with Championship side Huddersfield Town, where he played a starring role in the club’s bid for promotion.

His trademark is long-range shooting, scoring 11 times in the A-League last season, while he is also an assist king, providing four goals and seven assists en route to being named Huddersfield’s player of the year for 2017.

The Terriers are within reach of a Premier League spot, facing Reading in the playoff final on May 29. Either way, it wouldn’t be a shock if their ambitious central midfielder is in the top-flight next season, either with Huddersfield, Manchester City or someone else. – Kritikorn Thanamahamongkhol

No.4 Sardar Azmoun

Dubbed the “Iranian Messi” and likened to superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a UEFA article, Azmoun is among the hottest youngsters in the world game.

The 22-year-old has already been linked to Liverpool, Arsenal, Villarreal, Marseille and Borussia Dortmund and having stated his ambition to play with a top European side in the near future, offers could be aplenty this summer.

Regarded as the heir apparent to Iranian legend Ali Daei, Azmoun initially joined Rostov on loan from Rubin Kazan before making the move permanent at the start of the 2016/17 season.

He marked his move in style, scoring twice in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers as Rostov reached the tournament proper for the first time. He also scored in the club’s famous 3-2 win over Bayern Munich in the group stage.

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If he does stay another season with Rostov, Azmoun may be on many scouts’ watchlist at the 2018 World Cup, with unbeaten Iran in pole position to qualify from Group A.

In 2016, to underline his quality, Azmoun scored eight goals in as many international appearances. – Vijhay Vick

No.3 Shinji Okazaki

After the heights of Leicester’s surprise title triumph and the Japanese forward’s place in it, the last 12 months were something of a letdown for the 31-year-old Okazaki.

Having featured in barely half of the club’s league fixtures this term, he also lost his place in the starting line-up for his nation, but regardless there aren’t many players in Asia who can say they are at least a squad regular in the world’s most popular league.

Deployed either as part of a two-man frontline or in a role tucked in behind the striker, a return of just three goals and a single assist over the season were hardly eye popping numbers.

But he did help the club’s unlikely Champions League push and his supporters point to his work rate both on and off the ball as being a key component of the Foxes’ success. – Scott McIntyre

No.2 Son Heung-Min

“He can use his left foot, his right foot – he’s a quality player!” enthused Tottenham teammate Kieran Trippier recently about Son Heung-Min, No.2 on our list for the second consecutive season.

Already an accomplished talent, the South Korean has taken his game to a new level in 2016/17 for a Spurs outfit that pushed Chelsea all the way in a tight English Premier League race.

 With Harry Kane injured, he stepped up to fill the void, taking his tally past double figures for the season.

“He’s one of the players that have stood up and made things happen for Tottenham,” said former Spur Jermaine Jenas.

 Having finished first, second and now second again in three additions of the Asia 50, if he continues his current form he could surely take out the top prize once more next year.

He is also reportedly in line for a new and improved deal with Tottenham after his tremendous campaign.

Who knows, maybe next year he could also add the title Premier League champion. – Tio Utomo

No.1 Omar Abdulrahman

It is testament to the shaggy-haired star that six or seven years after he burst onto the scene, he is still regarded as the most exciting talent in Asia.

That is because few, if any, on the continent have the ability to change a game like the Al Ain ace.

The 2016 AFC Player of the Year led his club to the final of the 2016 Asian Champions League only to lose by the narrowest of margins, 1-0 to Korean giants Jeonbuk Hyundai.

World Cup qualification started excellently too and Al Ain finished the UAE pro league as runners-up.

 If club and country could have gone that little bit further then it would have been the perfect year.

When the 25-year-old plays well, he can lift his team to a whole different level.

The question for the star with time still on his side, and who is still being watched by many European giants, is how far he can go. – John Duerden

 

 

 

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