As you would expect in the world’s largest continent, there is abundant of talents in Asia. An increasing amount of it is heading west every transfer season, but much still remains. ESPNsoccernet selects a list of players who should, perhaps, be finding their way onto various shopping lists in Europe.
Deng Zhuoxiang (Shandong and China)
What Chinese football really wants, apart from another appearance at the World Cup, is a player to shine in Europe; Deng Zhouxiang could be that man. The midfielder burst onto to the regional scene last year with a series of impressive performances in the East Asian Cup, including a goal to remember as China defeated South Korea for the first time in their history, and he also put France to the sword ahead of the World Cup. Clubs in Korea and Japan tried to take the 22-year-old from Shandong but were put off by the asking price, so important is he to the newly-crowned Chinese champions. Deng starred for the Jinan outfit in 2010 as the club strolled to the title and, with silky skills and impressive vision for a player so young, Deng just needs to find a little more consistency and he can be a genuine star.
Ismail Matar (Al Wahda and UAE)
Ismail Matar is the once-great hope of West Asian football. The Golden Ball winner at the 2003 World Youth Championship should have been in Europe by now, but his club never let him go. You can’t really blame them for keeping hold of their talented playmaker – he is one of the most naturally gifted players in Asia. He starred in 2007 as UAE took the Gulf Cup, the region’s eight-nation biennial meet, for the first time. For that, the 27-year-old was given two camels. The AC Milan fan’s talents deserve a much faster mode of transport heading to Europe.
Koo Ja Cheol (Jeju United and South Korea)
The Korean was linked to Blackburn Rovers at the start of the year and, more concretely, to Young Boys of Berne at the end, but the Swiss team could not afford him. It is no surprise, as the 21-year-old has been going from strength to strength and had a great 2010. It is unfortunate, and perhaps a mistake, that he is not a regular starter for the national team as he was the best midfielder in the K-League last season. Classy on the ball, ready with a pass and deadly with a shot or set-piece, Koo wants to go west and it is only a matter of time before he does.
Kawin Thamsatchanan (Muang Thong United and Thailand)
South East Asia is not a region known for its goalkeepers but that could be about to change if this 19-year-old has anything to do with it. He has already become the main man at Muang Thong United, the new powerhouse of Thai football, and his absence from the national team at the recent AFF Cup was keenly felt by Thai fans and national team coach Bryan Robson. The former England captain has reportedly recommended the youngster to Manchester United. What happens next remains to be seen, but the shotstopper has a bright future.
Yasser Al Qahtani (Al Hilal and Saudi Arabia)
The Sultan of Swing is the biggest star in Saudi Arabia and perhaps the biggest in the region as a whole, though fans of Javad Nekounam of Iran may have something to say about that. It is sad for Asian football that ‘The Sniper’ has never tried his luck in Europe – a brief and forgettable trial with Manchester City not withstanding – as he has what it takes, in terms of ability at least, to be a success. If he can find the mental strength to match, he would be a hit. He has seemingly been around for years but it still only 28 and is still quick, good in the air and a handful for defenders.
Oktovianus Maniani (Sriwijaya and Indonesia)
This flying winger burst onto the regional scene at the recent AFF Suzuki Cup in which Indonesia made the final before being defeated by Malaysia. Oktavianus is certainly good to watch as he hares down the left flank and, at the tender age of 20, is only going to improve. If the ‘Indonesian Ryan Giggs’ is to match up to the original, he needs to follow in his footsteps and find a consistent end product. Still very raw but that just makes him all the more exciting.
Karim Ansarifard (Saipa and Iran)
It has been some time since a genuinely exciting young Iranian striker made waves. Ali Daei has cast a long shadow but it was the legend himself who gave a 17-year-old Ansarifard his chance of first-team football with Saipa. That was in 2007; two years later, the forward made his international debut, and 2011 is looking like it could be his best yet. There are reports of interest from Europe, with Borussia Dortmund named among the possible suitors, making an excitable Tehran sports media perform cartwheels. Still can be wasteful in front of goal, but has the attitude and skills to shine.
Jungo Fujimoto (Shimizu S-Pulse and Japan)
The playmaker is being chased by Japanese champions Nagoya Grampus – coach Dragan Stojkovic knows talent when he sees it – but the 26-year-old may want to take his cultured left foot further afield. Fujimoto may get his chance after being identified as the next Shinji Kagawa, though comparisons with Shunsuke Nakamura may be more apt – they even went to the same high school. The 2006 J-League Rookie of the Year is now fulfilling the potential shown four years ago. He has struggled for regular playing time for the national team – understandable considering the riches that Samural Blue enjoy in the middle of the park – but that could be about to change.
Alexander Geynrikh (Pahktakor and Uzbekistan)
The Uzbekistan hitman has suffered in the shadows of his better-known countryman and strike partner Maksim Shatskikh in the past but is ready to take over the main goalscoring duties in Central Asia. His head of blond hair was easily noticeable on the Asian stage in the past, with his strength and aggression causing problems for continental defences. The hair has gone, but the eye for goal and shooting skills, especially from the edge of the area, remain. Geynrikh has already had stints in Moscow with Torpedo and CSKA before returning to Tashkent but, at the age of 26, he is now ready.
Firas Al-Khatib (Al Qadsia and Syria)
Syria are no longer the straightforward opponents they once were and much of that can be put down to the emergence of players such as Al-Khatib. The 27-year-old scores goals for fun and has done so ever since starting out at local giants Al Karama. These days, he does the business for one of West Asia’s biggest clubs – Al Qadsia of Kuwait. A pleasingly old-fashioned poacher who has the knack of finding space in the box, he could make his name at the Asian Cup.
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