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 45-41, including a former Asian footballer of the Year, an Asian Games gold medallist and a player seeking redemption in the Bundesliga.
Words: Teng Kiat, Gary Koh, Jeremy Lim, Mihyun Chung and Zee Ko.
45. Park Joo-ho
Did you know? Park was one of three Koreans to score in a single Bundesliga game, as Bayer Leverkusen defeated Mainz 05 3-2 in April.
The 28-year-old South Korean attained what he needed from the past year, winning the gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games to grant him an exemption from military service. His playing position change was another large development. Park had to switch from left back to defensive midfielder as he lost his spot to Kim Jin-su in the national team. After returning from international duty, he found his position at 1.FSV Mainz 05 filled by Junior Diaz. Though not playing in his usual slot, he adjusted well to his new role and is now one of the few Korean players who have established themselves as regular starter at an European club. MC
44. Shinji Kagawa
Did you know? On his return debut at Dortmund, Kagawa scored a goal and set up another in a 3–1 win over SC Freiburg.
It has been a long and painful journey back for Shinji Kagawa. He stormed to three assists in Japan’s AFC Asian Cup opening round demolition of Palestine, but the spark soon went out and the team’s fire sputtered and died in their quarter-final exit to the United Arab Emirates. Nevertheless, Borussia Dortmund’s willingness to shelter Kagawa from the inquests after he rejoined them last summer has been repaid with a mini-revival at the end of February. The 26-year-old had taken his time to build up momentum but is now appearing unstoppable since hitting form again. JL
43. Zheng Zhi
Did you know? Zheng has made the Chinese Super League Team of the Year on eight different occasions.
It was clear that Team Dragon were banking on the experience of the former Celtic man to play a functional style of possession football. As a versatile deep-lying playmaker, Zheng Zhi has always performed important roles at critical moments for both Guangzhou Evergrande and the national team.
His leadership came through at a club consisting of internationally established stars. China’s talisman also performed well for the team during the Asian Cup in spite of his injury, although he failed to wake “the sleeping giant” of China. Considering his age, there is scant chance that he will ever repeat his Asian Footballer of the Year honours from 2013, but he was still impressive enough to make our list. MC
42. Ashraf Nu'man
Did you know? After scoring 14 goals for Palestine, Nu'man is the country's joint-highest ever goalscorer.
Already an established name in the Middle Eastern scene, the forward launched himself into the Asian football spotlight as he top-scored at the AFC Challenge Cup in 2014 with five goals, including netting the winning goal in the final against the Philippines to book the West Bank state a historic first Asian Cup finals. The finals proved to be a different story though, as he struggled to find the net against tougher opponents. His fortunes improved at club level as his goalscoring exploits helped him earn a second crack in Arabian club football with a move to modest Saudi league side Al-Faisaly. GK
41. Atsuto Uchida
Did you know? Uchida made both the J. League Best Eleven in 2008 and 2009, then the Bundesliga Team of the Season in 2013.
He may have been lacking on the defensive front in the eyes of many fans in the past, but the right back’s distinctive attacking and overlapping abilities have made him one of the best fullbacks Asia has produced in recent years. Uchida had to miss the early part of the 2014/15 season with injury, but returned at the perfect time to help Bundesliga club side FC Schalke 04 defeat local rival Borussia Dortmund. He has continued to flourish and improve ever since then, and now with notable improvement on his defensive skills, Uchida is evolving into the complete package. MC
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