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 20-16, including two Swindon lads, the Cha-minator and Iran's most capped player.
Words: Teng Kiat, Gary Koh, Jeremy Lim, Mihyun Chung and Zee Ko.
15. Yaser Kasim
Did you know? In August, Kasim became the first ever Iraqi player to captain an English club.
Iraq are blessed to have a new generation of talented international players emerging for the national team, with Kasim leading the charge. Making his international debut in late 2014, the young midfielder kickstarted his country’s Asian Cup campaign with the winning goal against Jordan in the opening match and would help the Mesopotamia Lions finish fourth in the finals. At club level, he has established himself as a midfield mainstay with English League One side Swindon Town after making his professional breakthrough as a regular last season. GK
14. Javad Nekounam
Did you know? Nekounam has represented Iran in four Asian Cups and two World Cup finals.
Even at the age of 34, Nekounam — the second-highest Iranian on the list — is the driving force in midfield. The Team Melli legend surpassed Ali Daei as the nation’s most-capped player in March before retiring after a solid career, which saw him complete every game at the World Cup and Asian Cup. The Osasuna stalwart also returned to the club after leaving them for two seasons in Asia and has been ever-present in their Segunda Division campaign so far. A combative presence and an expert from spot kicks, Nekounam is showing no signs of slowing down despite his advancing years. TK
13. Cha Du-ri
Did you know? Cha played for seven different German club sides between 2002 and 2013.
Despite missing the World Cup due to the then head coach’s controversial decision, Cha never stopped contributing to his country up until his international retirement after the Asian Cup. His assist to Son Heung-min followed by a 70-metre dribble in the match against Uzbekistan during the tournament was just two of many examples. The “Cha-minator” demonstrates his overwhelming physical presence, power and speed not only for his country but also for his club. Cha was acknowledged as the best right back in K-League Classic by helping FC Seoul to earn the final spot in the 2015 AFC Champions League. After his retirement from club football at the end of this year, his physical stature which is very rare in Asia, will be very much missed. MC
12. Mehrdad Pooladi
Did you know? Pooladi was named the second best-ranked player in the first week of the 2014 World Cup.
Battling with injury in the first half of 2014, Pooladi bounced back to have a fine year, especially at international level where he established himself as a key figure in the Iran back-line. The left-back helped Carlos Queiroz’s side to the World Cup in Brazil, where he completed all three group games and did not look out of place dealing with Lionel Messi. A solid Asian Cup campaign followed, until he was controversially sent off early on in the quarter-final loss against Iraq. Strong, uncompromising and reliable, Pooladi is already a regular for new club Al-Shahania but with his quality, he would not be out of place in a top European league. TK
11. Massimo Luongo
Did you know? Luongo was named Most Valuable Player at the 2015 Asian Cup.
Brazil 2014 came a little too early for Luongo, who could only watch on from the fringes as an unused squad player while Australia crashed out of the World Cup. Playing for Swindon Town in England’s third tier, the young midfielder was not expected to do more than make up the numbers going into the Asian Cup on home soil. However, impressive cameos in the run up to the tournament meant he could not be ignored. A return of two goals and four assists in six games, including the opening strike in the final against Korea Republic, helped announce him to the world as a star-in-the-making. As did his tournament MVP award. Big things are expected of the 23-year-old, and a move to the major leagues should not be far off. ZK
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