Asia 50, Part II: 'Thai Messi' and the 'Syrian Ibrahimovic' make the cut

In the second installment of this year's annual series, we venture through the English Premier League, the Bundesliga and the A-League and also check in with a J.League-bound superstar. 

No.30 Fahad Al-Muwallad

As fast as they come, Al-Muwallad has established himself as one of the most dangerous attackers in the whole of West Asia and at the tender age of just 22, there is still plenty more to come.

The winger has been used sparingly to some effect by Saudi Arabia coach Bert Van Marwijk during qualification for the 2018 World Cup, but with his pace and dribbling skills, he has added an extra dimension to their attack.

Few would have expected the Green Falcons to be level on points with Japan atop of their group with three games remaining, but that is where they sit and the Al Ittihad man has played his part, most notably in a 3-0 win over local rivals United Arab Emirates in October.

Al Ittihad fans love their home-grown star, while wishing that he could be just a little more consistent. That seems to be coming and, when it does, the man known as ‘The Cheetah’ will really be one to watch. – John Duerden

No.29 Mehdi Taremi

Not just a regular scorer but a regular scorer of key goals, Iranian standout Taremi is one of the hottest properties in West Asia.

Following on from his Golden Boot-winning season the year prior (where he finished a full five goals clear of his next challenger), he once again topped the charts domestically in Iran this season with his 18 goals coming at better than one every couple of matches.

If that wasn’t enough his goal plundering ways continued on the continent as he grabbed a hat-trick on the final Asian Champions League matchday against Al Wahda to confirm Persepolis’s place in the second round.

Moreover, of the nine goals his club scored in the group stage, the 24-year-old from south-western Iran was responsible for no fewer than six of them as his power, pace, touch and finishing shone throughout.

Having scored the match-winning goal in each of Iran’s past two World Cup qualifiers to boot, this is a young forward very much on the rise. – Scott McIntyre

No.28 Igor Sergeev

Just 24, the tall striker has already packed plenty into his career. With Uzbek giants Pakhtakor, he took a little time to get settled but once he did, and the service started coming into the penalty area, Sergeev started scoring for fun.

In the past three seasons at the club, he netted well over a goal every other game.

That took him to China in 2016 for a loan-spell with Beijing Guoan that never worked out and he was soon returning back home.

Sergeev is young enough to try his luck abroad again, however, and has already shown that he can score goals in Asia, with eight in his last 12 appearances in the Asian Champions League.

The goals have dried up a little for the national team, but the headache he presents for defenders remains, as does the confidence that when Uzbekistan needs its star striker, Sergeev will be there. – John Duerden

No.27 Mile Jedinak

Finishing 28th on last year’s list, Jedinak has risen one place this season, just reward for a solid first campaign with Aston Villa.

Emerging as a critical figure in the heart of the Villa midfield, the club won 44 per cent of its matches and drew 26 per cent when the Aussie was on the pitch.

Without him, that win percentage plummets to just seven per cent, with one victory in 14 matches.

Used at times as more of a defensive midfielder by new manager Steve Bruce, his tackling and clearances proved crucial to a side that at one stage flirted with disaster before finishing in mid-table, following its relegation from the Premier League at the end of 2016.

“He doesn’t play in a spectacular way, but defensively he’s given us that solidness and he makes us difficult to beat,” Bruce said of Jedinak’s performances this season. – Tio Utomo

No.26 Teerasil Dangda

Having demonstrated a winning mentality and leadership skills at club side Muangthong United, the striker was selected to wear the captain’s armband at the 2016 Suzuki Cup.

It was a role he clearly relished, scoring six goals to finish as the tournament’s leading scorer and lead his nation to glory for a record fifth time.

A former striker with La Liga side Almeria, Teerasil has taken over the mantle as the No.1 marksman at club and national level over the past couple of seasons.

The 28-year old scored 11 goals last season and made history by taking his tally past 100 strikes with one club in the Thai League back in March.

He is also developing into a proven performer on some of the biggest stages. As well as his Suzuki Cup exploits, Teerasil scored twice in a 2-2 draw against Australia at Rajamangala Stadium, helping Thailand secure their first point in the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. – Kritikorn Thanamahamongkhol

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