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 35-31, including three Australians, the Russian Messi and a Japanese veteran who's found a new lease of life at a new club.
Words: Teng Kiat, Gary Koh, Jeremy Lim, Mihyun Chung and Zee Ko.
35. Matthew Spiranovic
Did you know? Spiranovic has made more than 55 clearances for the Western Sydney Wanderers this 2014-15 season.
Barring injury and suspension, Spiranovic has been a key cog in central defence for both club and country over the past season. The lanky centre-back played every minute of Australia’s ill-fated World Cup campaign before helping Western Sydney Wanderers to an AFC Champions League trophy win at their first attempt. While the A-League club’s latest season has not exactly gone to plan, Spiranovic played a key part for his nation once again at the Asian Cup. “Spira” missed only the quarter-final game against China due to suspension, returning to help Australia beat UAE and Korea Republic en route to glory. ZK
34. Sardar Azmoun
Did you know? Azmoun has scored four goals in the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship qualifying stages so far.
Born in Iran and moulded in Russia, Azmoun plays like the world is at his feet. The ability to conjure moments of magic makes comparisons to Lionel Messi inevitable. The centre-forward comes armed with his personal variety of weapons too. Athletic and robust, the 20-year-old plays with an edge to his game and regularly seeks out bigger defenders for duels. Azmoun’s importance for Iran would grow at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, as he bagged two goals — one of which was the winner out of nothing against Qatar — in their run to the quarter-finals. JL
33. Trent Sainsbury
Did you know? Sainsbury scored his first ever international goal against the UAE in the 2015 Asian Cup.
From beating Ajax Amsterdam in the Dutch Supercup and South Korea in the Asian Cup final, it is fair to say that young Sainsbury has enjoyed a successful 2014/15 season so far. The defender signed for PEC Zwolle at the start of last year, but an injury on his debut ruled him out for the rest of the season and cost him a place at the World Cup. However, Sainsbury, one of the brightest prospects on the continent, recovered admirably. He made his international debut in September, before going on to play every minute in Australia’s momentous Asian Cup triumph, chipping in with a goal in the semi-final. TK
32. Makoto Hasebe
Did you know? Hasebe has made 29 appearances for his club in the 2014-15 Bundesliga season so far.
The experienced defensive midfielder has been enjoying a new lease of life at current club Eintracht Frankfurt after an injury-plagued campaign with relegated Nurnberg last season. An ever-present when available, Haseve has been an integral part of the team which is making a big push for a place in the Europa League next season. Though the same could not be said for Japan's international fortunes, he was one of the few who came out of the Samurai Blue’s poor World Cup and Asian Cup campaigns with their reputations intact. GK
31. Ante Covic
Did you know? Covic has racked up 65 saves for the Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2014-15 season.
At 40, and in the twilight of his career, Covic is the oldest player in our FFT Asia 50 list. The Western Sydney Wanderers custodian was a revelation between the sticks as the A-League team romped home to a first ever AFC Champions League title. Covic was awarded tournament MVP after the final, a deserving accolade considering his eight clean sheets from 12 outings as Asian opponents failed to find a way past the veteran goalkeeper. How long can he keep going? If his current form is anything to go by, Covic will not be hanging his boots up just yet. ZK
The FourFourTwo Asia50 is in association with Samsung SportsFlow – bringing you the most comprehensive sports coverage in one place via a single app. Find out more and download at www.sportsflow.me