Round 2 of World Cup/Asian Cup qualification highlighted clear divides in quality across Asia, however gave promise to those outside the elite to gain invaluable experience against the continent’s very best. In the run up to the Asian Cup qualification play-offs this week, Martin Lowe looks at each of the 11 sides still fighting for their future in the competition, selecting an all star line-up including one player from each of Asia’s emerging nations.
GK – Um Sereyroth
(National Defense Ministry (CAM) / Cambodia)
A young, energetic goalkeeper who has been one of Cambodia’s real unearthed diamonds over Round 2 of World Cup qualification. Despite conceding 27 goals over the stage, isolated defensive displays from the Cambodians indicated promise for the future, and Um’s displays in net underlined that. Alongside narrow defeats to Singapore and Afghanistan the stand out display for the nation was the historic hosting of Japan in November.
The scoreline immediately suggested something amiss, with the Samurai Blue only managing 2 efforts past Um during the 90 minutes. However it wasn’t luck that’s for sure, after a sterling rearguard action from Cambodia, including a number of timely interceptions and saves from the keeper, the personal highlight being a penalty save to deny record goalscorer Shinji Okazaki.
RB – Raihan Hasan
(Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi (BAN) / Bangladesh)
Despite only featuring sparingly during Round 2, Raihan Hasan’s stock is rising as an adaptable and calm ball player either on the right flank or just in front of the back four. A key part of the Bangladesh Under 23 side that clinched Bronze at the South Asian Games earlier this year, Hasan even popped up with a cool penalty during the successful shootout.
His highest profile match of his career however was undoubtedly in World Cup qualification, where he was moved out of position to nullify Asia’s most in form midfield in continental champions Australia, and while the result proved inevitable, Hasan in particular impressed with his calm assurance in possession.
CB – Sandesh Jhinghan
(Kerala Blasters (IND) / India)
As we profiled last year in our Asia’s Rising Stars series, Indian centre back Sandesh Jhinghan isn’t a stranger in being selected as his country’s stand out player. A year on, Jhinghan now 22, has been an ever-present leader in the centre of India’s defence, an area in which the team has performed relatively well despite finishing bottom of their qualification group.
India over the stage only conceded 18, better than 9 teams across the tournament, but only scored 5, something embarrassingly bettered by Bhutan. Jhinghan’s stability even at such a young age is tangibly felt across the defence, but it’s at the other end in which they need more quality. Jhinghan is even a leading light in those stakes, notching the opener against Turkmenistan in March.
CB – Amdaan Ali
(Maziya (MDV) / Maldives)
With legendary striker Ali Ashfaq announcing his retirement earlier on this year, the next stage of qualification marks an important turning point in Maldivian football history. To replace such an idol is a difficult scenario, but there are a few promising players coming through that might ease the transition, one being centre half Amdaan Ali.
Know simply as “Andy”, Ali is a languid looking defender with good feet and an annoying frame to get past. He’s also shown in his initial international career an eye for goal, scoring his first for his country in last year’s SAFF Championship against India.
LB – Mohammed Boqshan
(Al-Tilal (YEM) / Yemen)
Yemen are a case of what could have been over the last few years. The general shape and organisation of the defensive unit they possess is admirable for a country with their lack of resources, but time and time again they are drawn in sections that they have immediatly struggled in in an attacking sense. This may be finally the time to kick on, led at both ends of the pitch by left back Mohammed Boqshan.
The 22-year-old was part of the Yemen Gulf Cup side who notched clean sheets against Bahrain and Qatar, before registering a goal in their World Cup playoff victory over Pakistan last year. Since being drawn in another group of death in Round 2 of World Cup qualification, Yemen conceded the least of any play-off nation (17), and clinched an impressive victory over the Philippines. Boqshan’s role for his country is to influence attacks from the back, in what is a very deep-lying backline. Always eager to provide an out ball or overlapping run, he’ll be crucial again in another play-off encounter.
CM – Phoutthasay Khochalern
(Police Club (LAO) / Laos)
Slight but technical midfielder who has slowly but surely ensured a starting spot in the Laos national team. Came up the youth ranks with his country, starring as one of the players of qualification in Laos’ progression in 2014’s AFF Championship at the age of 18.
Now 20, he’ll be one of many young starlets in the Laos side in line to make a name for themselves as his side hosts India in the play-offs this week.
CM – Mohd Safiq Rahim
(Johor Darul Takzim (MAS) / Malaysia)
The highest ranked player in the play-offs from our #SFGTop100 series last year, Mohd Safiq Rahim is a respected legend of Malaysia, who amongst the dismay of the nation’s football landscape remains blemish free after continual impressive performances for club and country.
Domestically he led his club side Johor Darul Takzim to a historic AFC Cup trophy last term, while this term he’s already notched 7 goals in 4 in what has been an injury hit campaign. The whole of Malaysia will be praying he’ll regain fitness as the key driving force in his country’s hopes of continual Asian Cup qualification.
RM – Chen Po-Liang
(Hangzhou Greentown (CHN) / Taiwan)
Undoubtedly the most successful Taiwanese footballer of the current generation, expectation remains heavy on the shoulders of right winger Chen Po-Liang. Fleet-footed with a hearty worth ethic, Chen continues to be his side’s greatest threat and will be called up again to roam the attacking lines in pursuit of adding to his impressive 16 goals in 51 appearances for his country.
It’s a far cry from his club duties with Hangzhou Greentown in the Chinese Super League, where much more is expected of him in a defensive sense from Chen in their 4-4-2 formation. That remains the beauty of Chen’s flexibility, either utilised for his engine or for his moments of magic from out wide, continuing to make him a crucial mentor in a young and up and coming national team.
AM – Manuchekhr Dzhalilov
(Istiklol (TJK) / Tajikistan)
A revelation in Tajikistani football over the last year scoring 19 goals in 12 domestic games in 2015, alongside 6 in Round 2 of World Cup qualification, easing him into our #SFGTop100, Dzhalilov is already being tipped as the most explosive attacking asset in Asian Cup qualification Round 3, without his country even guaranteeing its place yet.
His eye for a finish is impressive, not necessarily for any cool or calm presence in front of goal, more for his instinctive nature. Tajikistan’s play-off opponents Bangladesh are already fully aware of this after Dzhalilov smashed four past them in their encounter in Dushanbe last year. The former Russian Premier League starter is a devastating handful and will relish another go at the South Asian’s defence, considering his continual goal per game ratio that has continued into 2016.
LM – Chencho Gyeltshen
(Satun United (THA) / Bhutan)
One of the site’s most favourite players from World Cup qualification, the 20-year-old winger dubbed CG7 (after adopting his hero Cristiano Ronaldo’s footwear and lightning acceleration) quickly became an Asian sensation after scoring twice to clinch Round 2 qualification in his country’s first ever home World Cup qualifier.
While Round 2 saw broadly one way traffic towards Bhutan’s goal (leading to their rock bottom finish), there were signs attacking wise that all may not be lost for the national team. Chencho scored a respectable 4 goals in 10 matches, notching home and away against Maldives who they pushed all the way. Whether or not Bhutan’s Asian Cup qualification progression continues when they face either Tajikistan or Bangladesh in September, the improvement seen across the year, led by their flying talisman, remains one of the stage’s most impressive stories.
CF – Chiquito
(Persiku Dynamo Kupang (TLS) / East Timor)
Shooting to fame after scoring the first two goals in the whole of World Cup qualification in March last year, Chiquito has stood out aside to his country’s controversial recruitment drive and remains the most potent striker in East Timor colours.
The country in the mean time has been painted by many on the continent as pantomime villains after their continual nationalisation of mainly Brazilian nationals, seeing a notable upsurge in form during qualification. After official complaints after their October tie with Palestine where seven of the starting 11 hailed from Brazil, East Timor have been left in a state of limbo, reverting to a young home-based squad while they wait to hear of their fate.
Either side of the Brazilian imports to youngster driven squad change, Chiquito has remained ever present as the nation’s leading striker. Irrespective of who lines up for them in the playoffs, “The Little Wasp” will remain a handful for the Malaysian defence.