Maybe next year? The rising stars who almost made the FFT Asia 50

It’s not easy making it onto FourFourTwo’s Best 50 Asian Footballers in the World 2015 shortlist, but there’s always next year! Zee Ko and Cronan Yu cast an eye on some promising up-and-comers…

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Chencho Gyeltshen (Bhutan)

The man dubbed the Bhutanese Ronaldo helped his country make headlines in 2015, scoring two out of their three goals as Bhutan beat Sri Lanka 3-1 on aggregate in their first ever World Cup qualifying ties. Making it all the way to Russia might be a step too far, but Gyeltshen will get a chance to strut his stuff abroad in June when he joins Thai Premier League side Buriram United. ZK

Kerem Bulut (Australia)

The talent has always been there, but off-field concerns seemed to keep getting in the way. Bulut’s move back to Australia in January has done wonders though, as he netted five times in nine games for the Western Sydney Wanderers. The 23-year-old’s form has already seen him being linked back to Europe, with others tipping him to break into the Socceroos squad soon. Now he just has to keep on track. ZK

Hamza Al-Dardour (Jordan)

The Jordanian goal-poacher has a habit of scoring by the truckload. After notching a hat-trick against Myanmar for the U22s early last year, Al-Dardour followed it up at senior level with four goals against a hapless Palestine during their Asian Cup group stage encounter. Granted three of them were tap-ins, but his well-timed runs put him in the right place at the right time to make the most of it in a 5-1 rout. ZK

Safuwan Baharudin (Singapore)

Not many fans in Australia had heard of the lanky defender before, but Safuwan soon made Melbourne City fans sit up and take notice after becoming the first Singaporean player to sign for an A-League club. Two goals in six games while playing in a variety of positions across defence and midfield endeared him to the home support, and there was genuine disappointment when he was released from his loan deal. Can he find his way back next season? Only time will tell. ZK

Gaku Shibasaki (Japan)

He’ll only be turning 23 this year, but Shibasaki has been tipped to be Yasuhito Endo’s long-term successor. It’s surprising that it took this long for the classy Kashima Antlers playmaker to debut for Japan, but he has wasted little time by scoring three goals in six appearances ­— including a late equaliser against the UAE in the Asian Cup quarter-finals. ZK

Nathan Burns (Australia)

Burns’ story is akin to that of the prodigal son — the promising youngster who left the A-League for Europe and Asia before making a triumphant return home after underwhelming spells overseas. “Triumphant”, though, barely fits the bill, and indeed, the attacker is rather unlucky to miss out on a top 50 spot.  At one stage the leading goal scorer in the A-League, Burns led the underrated Wellington Phoenix to a 4th placed finish with his 13 goals. His efforts saw him return to the Socceroos set-up after years in exile as the Australians went on to win the Asian Cup in spectacular style. CY

Aaron Mooy (Australia)

A shock off-season switch from Western Sydney Wanderers to Melbourne City has paid dividends — not only for the young midfielder, but also for his club. Occupying a right central role in the midfield trident, Mooy has scored a club-high seven goals and grabbed seven assists, and has led the club into the A-League semi-finals. His supreme form was rewarded with a Socceroos call-up in March’s international fixtures, most notably replacing Mark Milligan in Australia’s 2-2 draw with Germany. CY

Evan Dimas (Indonesia)

It’s not hard to see why Dimas’ nickname is ‘wonderkid’ in Indonesia. Despite only signing his first professional contract with Persebaya Surabaya in November, the former Indonesia U19 captain was called up to the senior national team that very month. He enjoyed a dream debut against Laos, scoring a goal and assisting another in a 5-1 win. It’s early days yet and he’s only made two appearances for Persebaya, but 2015 could very well be the hattrick-loving striker’s year. ZK

Wu Lei (China)

Tipped by former Chinese coach Xu Genbao as the nation’s own Maradona, Wu is most famous for being the youngest footballer to play professional football in China at the age of 14. While he has yet to make his mark outside China, a stellar 2014 with Shanghai SIPG saw him score 12 goals in 28 appearances while he also played a role in China’s run to the Asian Cup quarter-finals. If he keeps it up, a move to Germany might not be far off. CY

Jong Il-gwan (North Korea)

Hailing from north of the Korean border, the 22-year-old has been tipped for greater things after being crowned the Asian Young Player of the Year in 2010. Plying his trade for Rimyongsu in North Korea’s DPR Korea League, little about his club form is known for obvious reasons. That has not stopped Jong from being linked with various European clubs since 2012, as he continues to lead the line for his country at international tournaments. A big move out of Korea, perhaps even to Australia, could see his star rise further. ZK

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