Asia 50, Part II: 'Thai Messi' and the 'Syrian Ibrahimovic' make the cut
No.15 Chanathip Songkrasin
It’s been another excellent year for the “Thai Messi”, who improved his game significantly after moving from Tero Sasana to Muangthong United, winning his inaugural league title to qualify for the AFC Champions League for the first time.
He began earning attention across Asia, winning the man of the match award three times from his first five matches in the group stage as the Twin Qilins reached the knockout round for the first time in their history.
The 23-year-old also earned a long sought after move overseas and will link up with Japanese side Consadole Sapporo in July.
At international level, Chanathip is also an indispensable member of the War Elephants. Even though Thailand only picked up one point from seven matches in the third round of World Cup qualifying, Chanathip earned plaudits for his classy performances against Japan, the UAE and Australia.
He was also named Suzuki Cup player of the tournament for a second consecutive time as Thailand won the title once again. – Kritikorn Thanamahamongkhol
No.14 Omar Al Somah
It is commonplace for footballers across Asia to be given nicknames related to some of the best to play the game, with the likes of Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona often referenced.
Omar Al Somah is another in this category, aka the “Syrian Ibrahimovic”.
Scoring at a rate of better than a goal a game for Saudi club side Al-Ahli, Al Somah is a lethal finisher renowned for his free-kicks. Standing 193cm tall and combining great strength with impressive jumping ability, he is a menace when it comes to aerial duels.
He helped Al-Ahli to the Saudi league title last season, pacing the competition with 27 goals from 26 matches.
Al Somah had a brief trial with Nottingham Forest back in 2012 that didn’t lead to a contract and while he has just turned 28 years old, if he continues scoring at his current rate perhaps he can earn another shot somewhere in Europe. – Tio Utomo
No.13 Yuya Kubo
Having made his senior debut as a 16-year-old in his homeland, the continuing rise of the new starlet of the Japanese national team shows no sign of slowing down.
Now 23, the wide midfielder or forward has just capped off a stellar 12 months in Europe where he began the season in Switzerland, scoring five goals in 10 starts for Young Boys, before a high-profile move to Gent in Belgium in January.
To say he’s made a bit of an impact would be an understatement as he’s already scored at better than a goal every two matches, including some wonder strikes that will make the highlight reels for years to come.
Continuing on from his goals in back-to-back World Cup qualifiers for Japan in March, from the start of April to the start of May he scored in three straight league matches (with four goals in five overall) and he’s already been mentioned as a target for some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
This is a player who could well be in our top five this time next year. – Scott McIntyre
No.12 Ali Mabkhout
Over the past 12 months, the United Arab Emirates have emerged as a major player on the Asian stage, courtesy of a golden generation of talent, particularly in an attacking sense.
Sitting alongside Omar Abdulrahman and Ahmed Khalil is striker Mabkhout, with all three making our Asia 50 for a second consecutive year.
The 26-year old Mabkhout made his mark by finishing as the top scorer in the 2015 Asian Cup with five goals as the Emirati ended the tournament in third place.
He then carried that form into the domestic league, producing an impressive 23 goals from as many games for his club side Al Jazira.
Throw in a further seven goals from 2018 World Cup Qualifying so far and it’s easy to see why his combination with Khalil and Abdulrahman has developed into one of Asia’s fiercest attacking threats. – Kritikorn Thanamahamongkhol
No.11 Alireza Jahanbakhsh
The speedy wideman is part of a growing band of Iranian stars who are impressing in Europe more and more every season.
Jahanbakhsh’s theatre of choice is the Netherlands and he has become one of the biggest talents in the entire league.
He headed to Holland in 2013 and after two seasons with NEC, joined Az Alkmaar.
ASIA 50, 2017
His first season was affected by injuries but the winger still helped the club qualify for the Europa League. This season he has been fit and firing on all cylinders.
It could well be that he moves to a bigger club in a bigger league this summer and there has been plenty of interest, especially from the English Premier League.
Alternatively, suitors could wait to see him in the World Cup next year as he has become a vital part of Team Melli in their unstoppable run to Russia 2018. – John Duerden
Wednesday: The Top 10, an exclusive interview with our No.1 and much more