Asia 50, 2018: The count continues with a Chinese sharpshooter and a host of World Cup combatants
30. Maya Yoshida
Over the first half of the 2016/17 English Premier League season, Yoshida was finding first-team opportunities at St Mary’s Stadium hard to come by, particularly behind fellow central defender Virgil Van Dijk.
But given another chance just prior to Christmas in 2016, he grabbed hold of it tightly, playing all 90 minutes in 21 of the 22 remaining games that season.
He also played every minute of the Saints’ charge to last year’s League Cup final, including the entire match in the 3-2 loss to Manchester United in the final.
He has maintained his place for much of the current campaign, although a recent knee injury halted the progress of Southampton’s vice-captain. He was also ever-present in Japan’s charge to yet another World Cup finals and will play his part in Russia in June. – James Dampney
29. Akram Afif
The talented midfielder is only 21 but has been regarded as one of the biggest potential talents to come from West Asia for some time.
He has just returned to Doha after spells in Spain and Belgium and while Europe did not go quite as well as it could have, there is still lots of time and little doubt that the experience will serve him well.
This is a player who is fast, even with the ball at his feet, and loves to take defenders on and makes thing happen in and around the box.
The youngster will be a mainstay of the Qatar national team for years to come. – John Duerden
28. Nawaf Al-Abed
Saudi Arabia will turn to this experienced playmaker to help settle the nerves when they face Russia in the opening match of the World Cup this June.
Al-Abed isn’t a regular goalscorer but he managed to hit the back of the net five times in the World Cup qualifiers, a fair feat considering he had only scored three goals for the Green Falcons prior to that.
Yet it is his ability to deliver under pressure that has earned high praise. Three of the goals he scored in the qualifiers were from the spot when his country needed it most - against Thailand and Iraq - to ensure a 100 per cent start in the opening two group matches.
Al-Abed was also part of Al-Hilal’s 2017 AFC Champions League runners-up squad, which also won the Saudi Professional League after a six-year wait last year. – Vijhay Vick
27. Lee Jae Sung
The Jeonbuk Motors midfielder is one of the brightest talents in South Korean football.
At just 25, he has already made the K-League Best XI for three consecutive seasons and took home the 2015 K-League Young Player of the Year and 2017 K-League Player of the Year gongs.
While Lee has yet to really cement a position in the South Korea starting 11, it is clear he is ready to ply his trade abroad - it is just a matter of whether he is willing to step outside his comfort zone and which team comes calling first. – Matthew Mohan
26. Kengo Nakamura
One of the finest players of his generation anywhere in Asia, it’s quite remarkable that at 37 the attacking midfielder is playing some of the best football of his entire career.
The heartbeat of a Kawasaki side that won its first ever J.League crown in 2017, the attacking midfielder set the tempo for the club with his exquisite range of passing and rare ability to dictate the tempo from that No.10 role.
The 2016 league MVP, he followed up last year with some more outstanding displays as his 12 assists and five goals saw him justifiably named in the J.League Best XI for a remarkable seventh time. – Scott McIntyre