Feature: Top Ten Asian Players Of 2008

Asia Editor John Duerden rates the best 10 Asian performers of the outgoing year...

10. Ali Ashfaq (VB Sports & Maldives)  

The Man of Steel was once linked to a move to Europe and although it didn’t quite happen, he hasn’t looked back. Regarded by many in South Asia as the best player in the region, the striker is improving all the time. The 23 year-old shone during Maldives’ recent South Asian Cup triumph and was named as the tournament’s MVP. He wasn't ready for Benfica before -he may be now.  

9- Ahmed Ajab (Al Qadsia & Kuwait)

The most expensive player in Kuwait history has enjoyed another prolific season. This is a guy who just scores goals. The 24 year-old only made his international debut in January and hasn’t stopped scoring since.

Although Kuwait fell at the third stage of qualification for the 2010 World Cup, Ahmad scored six of the team's eight goals. He was the top scorer in the Kuwait league last season, scored three in the Asian Champions League and is on the shopping list of some of the region's big clubs.    

8 –Hong Yong-jo (FC Rostov & North Korea)

It is North Korea's defence or 'The People's Rooney' Jung Tae-se that take the headlines whenever the Reds do the business on the pitch. That backline kept six clean sheets out of six third round games but it is the presence of Hong that allows the team to play the way they do. Comfortable on the ball, intelligent in possession and handy from the set piece, the Russian-based star is one of those players who seems to have more time on the ball and brings others into the game.  

7– Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic & Japan)

Not Naka's best season for the Bhoys but still pretty good nonetheless. Once again, his goals and assists helped the team to another title –though it was a close-run thing. Has struggled with niggling injuries and jetlag and rumours of a return to Japan have never been far away. It is a testament to his ability then that he still impressed.

Japan coach Takeshi Okada went to Bahrain without Nakamura, preferring to leave him in Scotland. Japan lost that game in March and Okada has not made the same mistake again.  

6- Hawar Mulla Mohammad (Anorthosis Famagusta FC & Iraq) 

Hawar and Iraq didn't quite reach the heights of 2007 but he was still one of the better Desert Foxes in the third round of qualification. Scoring against China and creating for others.

His year will best be remembered for becoming the first Iraqi to play and score in the UEFA Champions League. It was a breathless six games in the group stage for the Cypriots. Hawar was on the scoresheet on a wild Wednesday night in Nicosia as Anorthosis beat Panathinaikos 3-1. The Cypriots collected six points, only two less than Inter Milan. That 3-3 draw will also live long in the memory.

5 – Server Djeparov (Bunyodkor & Uzbekistan)

Was named the player of the year by the Asian Football Confederation and Djeparov certainly had a season to remember. The cultured midfielder pulled the strings for both club and country. Uzbekistan stormed through the third round of qualification in impressive fashion – scoring goals left right and centre. The final round has not, as yet, been quite so impressive but there is still time.

The Uzbek player of 2008 also shone for Bunyodkor. He led the Tashkent club to the title and to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League. Within two weeks of becoming coach in the capital, Zico declared his belief that the 26 year-old has what it takes to succeed in Europe. He may soon get the chance with a trial at Chelsea.  

4– Javad Nekounam (Osasuna & Iran)  

A serious injury blighted the first quarter of 2008 but on his return the all-action midfielder showed why he had been voted the player of the year the previous season by Osasuna fans. His return to action for Iran came just in time as he helped a stuttering team through to the final round of qualification. He is, as he demonstrated against Saudi Arabia, always liable to pop up with a goal at a crucial time.

Nekounam has been doing the same of late as Osasuna struggle to improve upon a terrible start to the season. If the Pamplona club survives, you can be sure that the Iranian man will have played his part.   

3 - Brett Emerton (Blackburn & Australia)

More column inches are devoted to the likes of Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell when it comes to discussing the Socceroos but Brett Emerton is as reliable a player as there is and is a coach's dream. He hardly misses a match, gets up and down the pitch in impressive fashion and even pitched in with a few vital goals in qualification. He helped Blackburn to a seventh place finished at the end of the 2007-08 season and has been one of the team's better performers in this campaign.  

2 – Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka & Japan)

The modest midfielder would not have imagined at the start of 2008 that he would be lauded by such figures as Sir Alex Ferguson before the year was out. The Manchester United boss paid tribute to the Japanese star before FIFA's Club World Cup and after. Endo's arrival on the world stage comes a few years after he first started getting noticed in Asia. He led Gamba Osaka to the Asian Champions League and was once again one of the best when pulling on the blue shirt of his country. He wants a move to Europe and he may just be about to get it.

1 – Park Ji Sung (Manchester United & South Korea)

It is easy to forget that Park started 2008 returning from a lengthy and serious knee injury that briefly threatened to end his career. He was better than ever when he came back and had a season that is better than any other Asian.

Not only was Park instrumental in United's charge to the Premier League title, he was man of the match against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semi-final and played all 360 minutes in the last four and last eight games. The 27 year-old was left out of the final but deserved his medal. He ended the year lifting the Club World Cup.

Internationally was not bad either, he took the captaincy halfway through the year and led the Taeguk Warriors to a good start in the final round of qualification.

John Duerden

Asia Editor