The football world may not have warmed to or taken notice of Asian nations and their footballers until South Korea’s controversial yet phenomenal showing at the 2002 World Cup that saw them finish in fourth place. Since then, there have been many Asian footballers that have been talent scouted and excelled in the European leagues, with Park Ji Sung, Shinji Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo and Keisuke Honda establishing themselves as household names. However, many Asian footballers have still fallen under the radar, especially those not from traditional powerhouses Japan, Korea, and Australia. These are five underrated Asian footballers that have the star potential and ability to thrive at a higher level.
5. Fahad Al-Muwallad(Saudi Arabia)
Image by Reuters
The diminutive 1.68m striker is the product of Saudi club Al-Ittihad Club. Having rejected offers from Barcelona in his formative years to continue his career at his local club, he broke into the first team at the age of 16. He possesses blistering pace, composure in front of goal and even has free kicks in his offensive armory. He also has a penchant for big game performances, which has seen him score against Guangzhou Evangrade to send his club through to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League Semi-Finals in 2013, and also the more recent winning goal against Japan that sent Saudi Arabia into the 2018 World Cup Finals. Although he endured a tough six months loan spell at Levante, in which he made only 2 appearances, his star potential still remains and he is only 24-year-old, with many years of football ahead of him.
The 26-year-old Iranian goalkeeper plays for Persepolis in the Persian Gulf pro league, Iran’s top football league. He has amazing reflexes and aerial prowess, with his shot stopping capabilities well demonstrated at the 2018 World Cup where he single-handedly shut out Morocco and famously denied Cristiano Ronaldo from the penalty spot. In a group which contained Portugal and Spain, his performances kept Iran in contention for a knockout spot throughout, with only two goals shipped. He also has a spectacular long throw that is able to reach the opposition half and recorded an assist for launching a counter-attack with his massive throw that has reached over 55 metres. In the on-going AFC Asian Cup, the Iranian custodian has already managed a highly impressive 4 clean sheets in 4 matches, being the bedrock of a formidable defence that could take Iran into their first semifinals since 2004.
Image by AFP
The Chinese Super League (CSL) is littered with foreign football stars, as Chinese financial power continues to attract players from Europe’s top leagues. With names such as Oscar, Ramires, Paulinho, Yannick Carrasco, and Demba Ba, it is easy to overlook the local talent amidst the league’s ranks. One player that has been making waves is Wu Lei, who plays as a winger/striker for Shanghai SIPG FC. He holds the record for most club appearances and was the top scorer for the CSL last year with 27 goals in 29 appearances, firing Shanghai to their first ever top-flight title. An intelligent runner and a gifted clinical finisher, he is always capable of conjuring moments of magic with his deft touches and unstoppable volleys. He has already notched two stunning goals in the on-going AFC Asian Cup, and may be the catalyst to take Chinese football to the next level.
Image by Diario AS
Often used as a left winger or attacking midfielder sitting in the hole behind the strikers, the two-footed Akram Afif is extremely skillful and fleet-footed, and currently plays for Al-Sadd SC in his home country. He is enjoying a stellar domestic season, recording 14 goals and nine assists already in 13 appearances. Once a talented youngster who led the Qatari U-19 team to the AFC Cup title in 2014, in which he scored against DPR Korea in the final to secure the championship, he is now starring in the AFC Cup, with four assists in three matches to his name already. Already possessing experience in European leagues with short stints at Sporting Gijon (La Liga) and Eupen (Belgium First Division), the 22-year-old tricky winger deserves a shot at fame.
1.Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam)
Image by Minh Chien
The 21-year-old winger/striker who plays for Ha Noi FC in his country’s capital is the standout performer in Vietnam’s meteoric rise in the Asian football scene for the past year, leading the Vietnamese Under-23s to their first ever AFC Cup final with five goals and a subsequent semi-final place in the Asian Games. He also became the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup’s most valuable player after leading Vietnam to its second-ever AFF Cup title at the end of 2018 with three goals to his name. The left-footed Vietnamese is not only pacey and nimble, but he also possesses a ferocious shot and deadly set-piece deliveries, with the locals dubbing him as the ‘Vietnamese Messi’. At just 21-years-old, the talented youngster from football minnows Vietnam has the world at his feet.Leave a comment