After weeks of consultations with the experts and many rounds of discussions (and arguments), it's finally here – FourFourTwo's inaugural list of Asia's 50 best football players.
Below are numbers 30-26, including an Iranian defensive star, one of the most lethal J.League strikers in recent times and a former Asian Young Footballer of the Year.
Words: Teng Kiat, Gary Koh, Jeremy Lim, Mihyun Chung and Zee Ko.
30. Koo Ja-cheol
Did you know? In the 2014-15 Bundesliga season, Koo has scored four goals from 30 shots.
A man-of-the-match display from Koo in their Asian Cup opening victory over Oman underlined the attacking midfielder's importance to his country. However, injury struck him down in the final group game against Australia. South Korea could have done with his skill and vision in the final against the Socceroos as the home nation clinched the title. At the World Cup six months earlier, Koo was one of the brighter sparks in South Korea’s group-stage exit, wearing the armband and scoring against Algeria. In the Bundesliga, he is enjoying his first full campaign with Mainz and is a regular offensive threat. TK
29. Yuto Nagatomo
Did you know? In the past 12 months, Nagatomo has played in the World Cup, Asian Cup, Serie A and UEFA Champions League.
A permanent fixture in the Italian top-flight for half a decade now, Nagatomo applied all his defensive know-how at the Asian Cup as Japan kept a clean sheet in each of their Group D games. Fundamental in a side that favoured defensive solidarity over the urge to attack, the 28-year-old left-back still managed to get forward regularly to supply some attacking thrust along his wing. Inter have switched to a four-man defence under the returning Roberto Mancini, but injuries in the early part of the year have hindered him from contributing regularly. JL
28. Yoshito Okubo
Did you know? Okubo was J.League top scorer in 2013 and 2014.
Eighteen goals in the J. League 1 last season saw the veteran marksman finish as the competition’s top scorer for the second consecutive time and account for almost a third of his team’s overall tally. Okubo was also involved in the World Cup, though he missed out on the Asian Cup, where he could have come in handy as Japan went out in the knockout stages. Nonetheless, the striker remains one of the most lethal finishers in domestic football despite his relatively small 1.7-metre stature and has already scored four times in as many games in the new season. TK
27. Morteza Pouraliganji
Did you know? Pouraliganji made the AFC Best 11 of Round 2 at the Asian Cup after his performance in Iran's second match against Qatar.
Ever since the retirement of South Korean football legend Hong Myong Bo, there has been no clear successors in his mould until the emergence of the young Iranian as an unlikely star. The second half of last year was one to remember as Pouraliganji's major defensive contributions for former club Naft Tehran and the national Under-23 side led to a national team call-up after the Asian Games. The dependable ball-playing centre-back shone in the Asian Cup as he helped Team Melli keep a clean sheet in the group stage and scored his team’s second goal in the quarter-finals. Tianjin could be the stepping stone for him to make the push onto bigger stages outside Asia. GK
26. Ahmed Khalil
Did you know? Khalil is a previous winner of most promising Arab Player of the Year and Asian Young Footballer of the Year awards.
Despite being only 23, it feels like Ahmed Khalil has been present on the Asian scene forever. A podium finish at the Asian Cup with the United Arab Emirates finally brought the former Asian Young Footballer of the Year due recognition as he realised his huge potential. Played as the tip of the spear, Khalil worked tirelessly upfront to create space for his attacking counterparts. His toil was rewarded when he scored the opener and then the equaliser as UAE defeated Iraq 3-2 in the third-place playoff, taking his total tally to four for the tournament. JL
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