Asia 50, 2018: We begin with an EPL veteran, a prodigious young keeper and the sole Southeast Asian

Let the countdown begin! For the fourth consecutive year we present the FourFourTwo Asia 50, commencing with the first 20 players on our annual list... 

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50. Kosuke Nakamura

A genuine star in the making, it wouldn’t surprise to see Nakamura emerge as a player at the absolute top level both in the region and beyond for many years to come.

Already established as the best goalkeeper in Japan, he’s now a shot at being first choice in Russia at the age of just 23 and is surely headed for a major European club within the next year or so.

If it wasn’t for his superb shot-stopping and general command of his area, Kashiwa wouldn’t have been anywhere near the Asian Champions League (ACL) they qualified for this year and he’s already shown poise and control beyond his years for the national team in recent outings.

A generational talent, Nakamura has the potential to be amongst the best custodians that not just Japan but Asia more broadly has ever seen if he continues his outstanding rate of development. – Scott McIntyre

49. Chanathip Songkrasin

Thailand's creative spark is the only Southeast Asian (excluding Australians) to make this list and it is very easy to understand why.

Having already established himself as the finest player in the region, his every move since the transfer to the J.League was well documented. To say he 'settled in well' would be a big understatement.

Chanathip never looked out of place as he cemented a starting role for Consadole Sapporo, making 16 appearances. He has since got 2018 started with a bang too, scoring two goals early in the new season.

Thailand finished bottom of Group B in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, but being among the 12 best teams in the continents for final round was an achievement in itself and Chanathip raised more than a few eyebrows in some of those matches. – Vijhay Vick

48. Saeid Ezatolahi

The "Persian Pogba" as he is known by some, Ezatolahi has been earmarked for some time now as one of the future stars of the continent's strongest side, Iran.

Ezatolahi, who is the youngest goalscorer in the history of the national side (19 years and 42 days), is a confident central midfielder who is good on the ball.

He struggled to find his feet at Russian Premier League side FC Rostov and was farmed out on loan to Anzhi Makhachkala and Ankar Perm. Ezatolahi is slowly finding his feet at Ankar, having made 11 league appearances and scoring one goal at the time of writing.

Team Melli will have to do without the services of the talented 21-year-old in the first first group match of their World Cup campaign, however, after he was sent off during a qualification match against South Korea. – Matthew Mohan

47. Salem Al-Dawsari

In January this year, Al-Dawsari was the headline act when it was announced he and a host of fellow Saudi footballers would be heading to Spain.

The winger linked up with Villarreal and while he has yet to make a senior appearance in La Liga, the moves give all of them valuable experience ahead of Saudi Arabia’s participation in this year’s World Cup.

Prior to his move, the 26-year-old starred for Al-Hilal in the Saudi Professional League, making over 160 appearances and helping the club reach the 2014 and 2017 AFC Champions League finals.

He is a regular goalscorer, including getting on the scoresheet in a 3-2 defeat to Australia in a World Cup qualifier in Adelaide in June last year. – James Dampney

46. Ali Alipour

Iran are developing an embarrassment of riches up front and this 23-year-old is the latest to emerge.

He has stepped up for Persepolis after the departure of Mehdi Taremi. This season the confident forward, who loves to run at defenders, has been scoring for fun to help the champions successfully defend their title with ease.

He has also taken to life in the Asian Champions League so far, scoring three goals in the first four games in the group stage.

The World Cup may be a little too soon for the striker, but seeing how he has progressed of late and his self-belief, you wouldn’t put it past him. – John Duerden