Asia is not really known for its footballing superiority. Even so, countries like Japan and South Korea have produced certain players who have caught the eye of the world. The likes of Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also making their mark along with Australia, who are to be considered an Asian country in the footballing sense due to their affiliation to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
We have tried to create a team consisting of the best Asian players at present, and the formation used is an unconventional 4-2-4.
Goalkeeper: Matthew Ryan (Australia & Brighton)
The Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeper has been very consistent for his club and country over the years. Matthew Ryan has a decent resume, having played for the likes of KRC Genk, Valencia and Club Brugge. However, he made his name at English club Brighton. He has so far made 101 appearances for the Seagulls while turning out 54 times for Australia.
Ryan has kept 16 and 54 clean sheets for Australia and Brighton respectively, and it is an impressive record, considering neither his club nor country are footballing powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination.
Right-back: Hiroki Sakai (Japan and Marseille)
Hiroki Sakai is an integral part of Marseille as well as the Japanese national team. The right-back, who is known for his pace and hard work, has been capped 55 times by the Asian heavyweights. He has a single goal and seven assists to his name while representing Japan. On the club front, Sakai has thus far made 147 appearances in all competitions for Marseille, scoring twice and providing 11 assists.
The 30-year-old is an extremely versatile player and can play at left-back, centre-back or right midfield. Sakai, who is good in aerial duels, is also known for his ability on the ball and playing key forward passes to his teammates.
Centre-back: Maya Yoshida (Japan & Sampdoria, on loan from Southampton)
Maya Yoshida is one of the most capped Japanese internationals and has had a very respectable career in Europe. The 31-year-old, who is the current captain of his national team, has 100 caps and 11 goals to his name for the Asian giants. At club level, Yoshida has made 194 appearances for Southampton, scoring nine goals and providing two assists, besides providing stability to the Saints’ defence.
Due to his recent lack of playing time at Southampton, he joined Serie A outfit Sampdoria on loan in January. Yoshida was a pretty obvious choice in the list, given his experience of playing at the top level and work rate.
Centre-back: Morteza Pouraliganji (Iran & Al-Arabi)
Morteza Pouraliganji impressed one and all with his stellar performances in the 2018 World Cup as he was one of the most impressive players for Iran.
Pouraliganji marshalled his defence well, with the Asian nation conceding just three goals in total against Morocco, Spain and Portugal. It was an outstanding achievement, given Iran had to come up against the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Diego Costa, Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo. The 28-year-old, who currently plays for Qatari outfit Al-Arabi, has 41 caps for the national side.
Left-back: Yuto Nagatomo (Japan & Galatasaray)
33-year-old Yuto Nagatomo, who spent most of his playing career in Italy with Inter Milan, is still going strong for both Galatasaray and the Japanese national team.
The Asian full-back has represented his country 122 times so far and remains one of the highest-capped Japanese players of all time. Nagatomo has made 15 appearances for Galatasaray in the league this season, scoring once and helping his side keep six clean sheets. The veteran defender has shown that he still has plenty to offer for both his club and country.
Defensive midfielder: Odil Ahmedov (Uzbekistan & Shanghai SIPG)
Odil Ahmedov is arguably the best Uzbekistani player at present and is rightly the captain of the national team. He is currently playing in the Chinese Super League with Shanghai SIPG and has the likes of Oscar and Hulk as his team-mates. The 31-year-old has previously turned out for Krasnodar and Anzhi Makhachkala in the Russian Premier League.
Ahmedov has scored 20 goals in 104 matches for Uzbekistan, while he has played 90 games for Shanghai SIPG, scoring nine goals. He is a versatile player and can be deployed as a centre-back as well. The Asian possesses the ability to split defences with accurate through balls and is also known for his tenacious tackling. He is an intelligent player in the middle of the park and knows how to break the lines to stop opposition attacks before they turn dangerous.
Central midfielder: Aaron Mooy (Australia & Brighton)
The Brighton midfielder made his name at Huddersfield and was an integral part in their promotional campaign. He played a key role as Huddersfield avoided relegation in their first season in the Premier League. However, after the Yorkshire outfit went down after a year in the English top-flight, he made a switch to Brighton.
Mooy has scored six goals and set up 14 more in 43 appearances for Australia. For Brighton, he has played 22 times this season, scoring twice and providing one assist. The 29-year-old has been mostly deployed as a deep-lying midfielder and thus, his numbers are not that great. The Australian is known for his vision and passing abilities.
Left-wing: Heung-min Son (South Korea & Tottenham)
Heung-min Son is the best Asian player by a country mile at the moment. Son can play various roles such as a left-winger, centre forward, right-winger, second striker and attacking midfielder. However, he looks at his best playing on the left wing.
The South Korean is a valuable attacker as he can use both feet equally well, in addition to having a powerful shot on him. Son, whose explosive pace and positional sense are renowned, boasts of good close control. He is also a clinical finisher, which makes him a deadly forward, especially on counter-attacks.
The Tottenham Hotspur star first made his name in Germany with Hamburg before becoming a revelation in England since joining Spurs from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015. The 27-year-old has played 220 times in all competitions for the north London club, scoring 83 goals. However, he hasn’t been that prolific for his national side, netting 26 times in 89 appearances for the Asian country.
Right-wing: Hwang Hee-chan (South Korea and RB Salzburg)
The South Korean international has been in great form for Salzburg this season, both domestically as well as in Europe. Hwang Hee-chan is a skilful player who has great pace. The Asian is excellent at moving into areas and drawing defenders with him, thus creating space for his teammates to exploit.
Hee-chan formed a lethal partnership with Erling Haaland before the latter moved to Borussia Dortmund in January. He has made 30 appearances in all competitions so far this season for Salzburg, scoring 13 goals and providing 12 assists.
Striker: Sardar Azmoun (Iran & Zenit St. Petersburg)
Sardar Azmoun is often referred to as the Iranian Messi. The 25-year-old, who is the second-most expensive Iranian player behind Jahanbakhsh, currently plays for Russian club, Zenit St. Petersburg. Azmoun is most famous for his aerial ability, creativity, and acceleration.
The Asian star has played 29 games this season for Zenit, netting 14 times and providing six assists. With five goals to his name in the UEFA Champions League so far in his career, Azmoun holds the record for most goals scored in the competition by an Iranian. However, his record for Iran is more impressive as he has scored 31 goals in just 48 appearances for the Asian giants.
Striker: Sunil Chhetri (India & Bengaluru FC)
Sunil Chhetri is the face of Indian football and has been the flag bearer for the nation since Baichung Bhutia retired. Nicknamed Captain Fantastic, Sunil is one of the most successful Indian footballers of all time. He is the second-highest goalscorer in international matches among current players after Cristiano Ronaldo. Besides, the 35-year-old forward has 72 goals in 115 appearances for his nation, with both being Indian records.
In addition to playing for several top Indian outfits, Sunil has also plied his trade in the USA and Portugal. Since 2008, he has scored a total 140 goals in 260 club appearances, which is more than one goal in every two appearances – a staggering record!
Here’s how the best Asian XI would line up.
Lei Wu (China & Espanyol)
Adnan Ali (Iraq & Vancouver Whitecaps)
Neil Etheridge (Philippines & Cardiff)
Tom Rogic (Australia & Celtic)
Majid Hosseini (Iran & (Trabzonspor)
Takumi Minamino (Japan & Liverpool)
Trent Sainsbury (Australia & Maccabi Haifa)
Also Read: Best African XI at present