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 40-36, including a late bloomer, a written-off veteran who's not quite done yet and a Japanese starlet whose form deserves a second chance in Europe.
Words: Teng Kiat, Gary Koh, Jeremy Lim, Mihyun Chung and Zee Ko.
40. Sun Ke
Did you know? Despite debuting nearly a decade ago, Sun has only ever played for one club, Jiangsu Sainty.
The Asian Cup marked a watershed moment for the winger after he emerged from the fringes of the national team to become their top scorer in the finals. Just two minutes after coming on in their second group match against Uzbekistan, he made a statement of his capabilities on the international stage with a curling shot from the edge of the box to maintain their perfect start. This was followed by a clinical first-half brace to help China advance into the quarter-finals for the first time since 1996, as he established himself as a central midfield figure in Alain Perrin’s plans. GK
39. Kwak Tae-hwi
Did you know? Kwak made both the AFC Champions League 2014 and AFC Asian Cup 2015 dream teams.
For a player who only started playing football in high school, it is remarkable how Kwak has bloomed so late to become an international star. Even more surprising is that he went effectively blind in one eye after serious surgery during his high school years, but still beat the odds. Despite this hindrance, he now stands out as one of the best players at Al-Hilal FC and in Korea. His impressive performances, which led the club to the final of AFC Champions League, earned him a spot in the national team. During the Asian Cup, this experienced defender was a commanding presence in the back line by complementing Kim Young-gwon, and made the 2015 Asian Cup Dream Team. Kwak continues to build on his reputation as a valuable exemplar of the human spirit. MC
38. Younis Mahmoud
Did you know? Younis has scored 53 international goals for Iraq, including the winner in the 2007 Asian Cup final
The Iraqi football icon was written off as a has-been in the Middle Eastern club football scene after he spent more than a year without a team. However, his country knew better and trusted him to deliver on the international stage. He repaid their faith with three goals as an over-aged player to help the Iraq Under-23s to a bronze medal in the Asian Games and then captained the Mesopotamia Lions to fourth in the Asian Cup. The evergreen forward also wrote himself into the Asian football annals when he became the first player to score in four Asian finals in Iraq’s 2-0 win over Palestine. GK
37. Tomi Juric
Did you know? Juric has scored a goal every 260 minutes for the Western Sydney Wanderers this 2014-15 season
The man who turned down a reported A$10m dollar deal to join Shanghai Shenhua has had quite a year. Despite not being considered for Australia’s ultimately disappointing World Cup campaign, Juric made headlines with Western Sydney Wanderers by scoring the winning goal during the AFC Champions League final against Al-Hilal as the A-League club made history. The young striker’s form was enough to earn him a call-up to Ange Postecoglou’s Asian Cup squad, where he scored his first international goal against Oman. Juric then once again proved his big-game pedigree by coming up with the winning assist in the final to help Australia become champions of Asia. ZK
36. Takashi Usami
Did you know? Usami is Gamba Osaka's youngest ever goalscorer at just 17 years and 14 days old.
Rarely has a 22-year-old had a more profound impact on a season as Takashi Usami. The divine attacking talent transformed Gamba Osaka from relegation candidates to domestic treble winners in the 2014 J.League season. Usami’s return from injury at the midway stage, when his club looked on the brink of being sucked back down to the second tier, came as a godsend. Gamba’s youth-product-turned-golden-boy would score 18 goals that term and the increasingly-deafening clamour for his inclusion in the Japan squad was finally addressed by Vahid Halilhodzic, who played Usami against Tunisia in March. JL
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