Best Footballer in Asia 2018: The 24 Contenders

John Duerden John Duerden

With the unveiling of the nomination list for those in contention to be named “Best Footballer in Asia 2018 (BFA 2018)”, one thing is clear: Japan have had a very good year with five Japanese named in the list of 24 and two others who play in the J.League.

Japan were the only Asian representatives to stay at the 2018 FIFA World Cup beyond the group stage. While the other four – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Korea Republic and Australia – all headed home early, the Samurai Blue went into the last 16 and were unlucky to lose 3-2 to the highly-fancied Belgians after conceding to a last-minute counterattack.

On the domestic front, Kashima Antlers ensured that the Land of the Rising Sun grabbed some continental silverware by lifting the AFC Champions League in November. With a number of players still active in the big European leagues, it is not a surprise that there are five Japanese players in the running to win BFA 2018.

Best Footballer in Asia 2018: All you need to know

Takashi Inui made plenty of headlines with his delightful strike against the Belgians, one of the goals of the World Cup. He is joined by fellow internationals Makoto Hasebe and Yuya Osaka. Gen Shoji has the added advantage of not only playing for the Samurai Blue but also for Kashima.

The Samurai Blue had an excellent 2018 FIFA World Cup.

There are also three more mentioned who play in the J.League with South Korean goalkeeper Kwon Sun-tae, Brazilian striker Serginho and young star Yuma Suzki playing a major part in Kashima’s march to a first-ever ACL crown.

In a World Cup year there are always going to be a number of players who impressed on the global stage, which is the perfect place to forge or improve reputations.

Alireza Beiranvand was a standout in Russia. The goalkeeper starred as Iran came close to getting out of a tough group containing Spain, Portugal and Morocco. The Team Melli No. 1 also played a major part in Persepolis reaching the final of the Champions League for the first time since the tournament started in 2003.

It’s not everyday you deny Cristiano Ronaldo from the spot.

Compatriot Alireza Jahanbakhsh did not quite have the World Cup that was expected, but – in the first place –  it was his brilliant performances for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie that lifted those expectations to stratospheric levels as he ended the 2017-18 season as the league’s top scorer – an amazing achievement especially considering he plays primarily as a winger.

Australia’s two representatives both went to Russia 2018 with Aaron Mooy and Mathew Ryan enjoying solid seasons. Ryan has proven himself to be one of the better goalkeepers in the English Premier League and Mooy is a popular figure among fans of the Socceroos and Huddersfield.

Current holder of the prize Son Heung-min ended a fine tournament scoring the goal that sealed Korea Republic’s 2-0 win over defending champions Germany. Winning the Asian Games and still playing well for Spurs, Son will be tough to beat once again.

Son has had another brilliant year for club and country.

Hwang Ui-jo’s nine goals at the Asian Games puts the Gamba Osaka striker in the mix as does Cho Hyun-woo’s goalkeeping heroics at the World Cup.

China are represented by Wu Lei, the top scorer in a league dominated by expensive foreign striking talent, while West Asia boasts five players on the list with three of those hailing from Qatari giants Al Sadd.

Abdelkarim Hassan won the official AFC annual prize, while Akram Afif has started to fulfil his attacking potential as Qatar defeated Switzerland and drew with Iceland in international friendlies.

Algerian striker Baghdad Bounedjah ended the AFC Champions League as the top scorer with 13 goals to help Al Sadd reach the last four.

Meanwhile, Marcus Berg helped Sweden reach the last eight at the World Cup and the striker was his usual dangerous self as United Arab Emirates giants Al Ain won their domestic league title again.

Elsewhere in the West, Salman Al Faraj was quietly effective in midfield for Saudi Arabia and Al Hilal.

And then we move to Southeast Asia.

Etheridge has played a key role for Cardiff in the Premier League thus far.

Neil Etheridge became the first Southeast Asian to play in the English Premier League, while the Philippines goalkeeper a major part in Cardiff’s promotion.

Nguyen Quang Hai started the year playing a major part in Vietnam reaching the final of the AFC U-23 Championship and continued his fine performances throughout 2018, culminating in a brilliant showing that won him the Most Valuable Player prize as Vietnam won the AFF Suzuki Cup for only the second time in their history.

The brightest star in Southeast Asian football at the moment?

Sunil Chhetri flies the flag for South Asia with another fine year for club and country, and Valery Kichin is Central Asia’s hope and – even if he does not win this prize – he can look forward to Kyrgyz Repulic’s first appearance at the Asian Cup in January.

That’s next year though, when new reputations will be made and enhanced to be in contention for the Best Footballer in Asia 2019 award.

The 24-man nominee list

The 24-man shortlist for the Best Footballer in Asia 2018 shortlisted by Titan Sports. It is a recommended list but any juror can choose and vote for an eligible player beyond the list.

Name Club Nationality
Akram Afif Al Sadd (Qatar) Qatar
Alireza Beiranvand Persepolis (Iran) Iran
Marcus Berg Al Ain (United Arab Emirates) Sweden
Baghdad Bounedjah Al Sadd (Qatar) Algeria
Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru (India) India
Neil Etheridge Cardiff City (Wales) Philippines
Salman Al Faraj Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) Saudi Arabia
Makoto Hasebe Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) Japan
Abdelkarim Hassan Al Sadd (Qatar) Qatar
Hwang Ui-jo Gamba Osaka (Japan) Korea Republic
Takashi Inui Eibar (Spain)/Real Betis (Spain) Japan
Alireza Jahanbakhsh AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)/ Brighton & Hove Albion (England) Iran
Cho Hyun-woo Daegu (Korea Republic) Korea Republic
Valery Kichin Yenisey (Russia) Kyrgyzstan
Kwoun Sun-tae Kashima Antlers (Japan) Korea Republic
Aaron Mooy Huddersfield Town (England) Australia
Nguyen Quang Hai Hà Nội  (Vietnam) Vietnam
Yuya Osako Koln (Germany)/ Werder Bremen (Germany) Japan
Matthew Ryan Brighton & Hove Albion (England) Australia
Serginho America Mineiro (Brazil)/Kashima Antlers (Japan) Brazil
Gen Shoji Kashima Antlers (Japan) Japan
Son Heung-min Tottenham Hotspur (England) Korea Republic
Yuma Suzuki Kashima Antlers (Japan) Japan
Wu Lei Shanghai SIPG (China) China