We continue our countdown of 2016’s Top 100 Asian players, by looking at those we ranked 75-51 through the lens of Martin Lowe and our resident K League expert Tim Lee. Participants in this batch include two Olympians, two domestic Golden Boot winners, alongside three players who slipped out of our Top 30 from last year. Again, please feel to comment using the #SFGTop100 hashtag on Twitter, or leave your thoughts at the bottom of the page.
75. Mohd Safiq Rahim (Last Year: 55)
Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) / Malaysia / Centre Midfield
Malaysia’s talismanic former captain was at it again this year, leading Johor DT to the club’s first league and cup double, with the title being won at a canter, some 15 points clear of the chasing pack. On a personal note he notched up 8 goals across his club’s run to the AFC Cup semi-finals, whilst also retiring from international duty over the summer.
74. Ryota Oshima (New Entry)
Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) / Japan / Centre Midfield
It’s been a year of maturity for Oshima, with a growing influence on his club side transcending to an emerging international career which included an AFC U23 Championship winning medal in January, an appearance at the Rio Olympics and his first senior call up and start in September. The match may have gone down infamously, however Oshima impressed as a deep lying passer in Japan’s defeat to UAE, always willing to take on possession responsibility.
73. Kim Bo-kyung (New Entry)
Jeonbuk Motors (KOR) / South Korea / Centre Midfield
It’s been a year of revival for Kim Bo-kyung. Unveiled as Jeonbuk’s marquee signing last transfer window, the former Cardiff midfielder was effective in a midfield pairing with Lee Jae-sung. The energetic central midfielder was one half of the tireless puppermaster duo that was essential to Jeonbuk’s highly effective one-touch passing game, which led them all the way to the Asian Champions League crown.
72. Yahya Al-Shehri (New Entry)
Al-Hilal (KSA) / Saudi Arabia / Winger
A special talent that has had some of his best performances to date in a Green Falcons shirt this last year, including creative displays against Asian giants Australia and Japan, whilst scoring in their famous 3-0 rout over UAE in October.
71. Aleksandr Lobanov (New Entry)
Pakhtakor (UZB) / Uzbekistan / Goalkeeper
Has been an immovable object behind a solid World Cup chasing national defence that has kept five clean sheets in seven qualifiers this past year. After what was an ill-fated first part of the calendar year with Persepolis in Iran (where incidentally Lobanov was never on the losing side), the keeper returned to his happy hunting ground of Pakhtakor in August.
70. Reza Ghoochannejhad (New Entry)
Heerenveen (NED) / Iran / Striker
He hasn’t had the best few years, but Reza Ghoochannejhad is making up for lost time since moving to Holland over the summer. Going into the winter break, Reza has notched seven goals in 17 appearances as Heerenveen push for an unlikely European spot. He’s also reaffirmed his status within the national team, scoring the critical 94th minute opener against Qatar in September’s WCQ.
69. Kwak Tae-hwi (Last Year: 23)
FC Seoul (KOR) / South Korea / Centre Back
Kwak Tae-hwi began his year at Al-Hilal before moving to FC Seoul in July. Beloved by both clubs, the evergreen centreback continued to show off his aerial ability and defensive smarts as well as being a key leadership figure inside the dressing room. Uli Stielike even publicly acknowledged it was a mistake leaving Korea’s best veteran defender off of the Reds’ selection in September. A very important piece in Seoul’s domestic title this year, while his experience was also shown in the Champions League, where Seoul made it to the semi-finals, Kwak’s third consecutive appearance at this stage of the continental competition.
68. Ismail Al-Hammadi (Last Year: 31)
Al-Ahli (UAE) / UAE / Winger
Remains a constant threat in the reigning Arabian Gulf League champions attacking line-up. The diminutive winger has also continued to cause havoc for the national team, with goals against Palestine, Iceland and Bangladesh across the calendar year.
67. Trent Sainsbury (Last Year: 73)
Jiangsu Suning (CHN) / Australia / Centre Back
Returning to Asia, after three years in Holland, Sainsbury has illustrated he’s one of the continent’s best centre backs for club and country. After missing out on a couple of Socceroo starts at the end of 2015, Sainsbury was an ever present this past year, going on to score against Greece and Saudi Arabia.
66. Alaa Ali Mhawi (New Entry)
Al-Zawraa (IRQ) / Iraq / Right Back
A rapid rise to fame in the national team for the 20 year old right back, who played a key role in Iraq’s AFC U23 campaign in Qatar at the beginning of the year. Later on came his personal highlight; man-marking Neymar out of the game at the Olympics, before receiving his first senior call up against Australia. An unpredictable full back, who on his day looks a devastating attacking threat.
65. Omar Khirbin (Last Year: 50)
Al-Dhafra (UAE) / Syria / Striker
Syria’s progress in World Cup qualification, without the striking prowess of Omar Al-Somah, has no small part to do with the quality of Omar Khirbin in attack. Another two goals in WCQ and a further three in the AFC U23s were recorded for the national team. At club level, Khirbin finished third in the race for the golden boot in the Iraqi Premier League before sealing a notable move to the Emirates in the summer, where he’s continued on his hot streak.
64. Jiang Zhipeng (New Entry)
Guangzhou R&F (CHN) / China / Left Back
One of the stars of the Chinese Super League season, Jiang finishes the year breaking through as a dangerous left wing back option for Marcello Lippi’s China setup. Was a near ever present for R&F in their 6th placed finish last season.
63. Rodrigo Tabata (New Entry)
Al-Rayyan (QAT) / Qatar / Striker
At 36, and a strong career behind him in the region, Tabata will consider 2016 as his peak year. An unlikely call up to the national team was initially scorned given his age and heritage, however he’s slowly brought round his critics providing something extra to Qatar’s attack. His club form, which warranted his selection, has been nothing short of sensational, clinching the golden boot in Al-Rayyan’s Qatar Stars League title run last season, before starting in a similar vein this campaign.
62. Theeratorn Bunmathan (New Entry)
Muangthong Utd (THA) / Thailand / Left Back
Still only in his mid-20’s, the national team captain made the highest profile switch in the Thai Premier League this year, with his (at the time) record signing for Thai champions Muangthong United from Buriram United. Was also part of the national team that clinched a historic point against Australia in WCQs and won December’s Suzuki Cup.
61. Sunil Chhetri (New Entry)
Bengaluru FC (IND) / India / Striker
The legendary Indian striker topped his memorable career to date with an AFC Cup runners up medal with Bengaluru, to go with the domestic I-League title won earlier in the year. Was the difference maker on the road to Doha, scoring braces against Kitchee and Johor Darul Ta’zim, including a stunner from outside the box to clinch their progression to the final.
60. Matt Leckie (Last Year: 43)
Ingolstadt (GER) / Australia / Winger
Australia’s most direct attacking threat continues to be a favoured weapon of Ange Postecoglou either on the flank of a 433 attack, or alongside a more stereotypical striker in a 442 diamond. Domestically he was a key component of Ingolstadt’s successful Bundesliga survival campaign, while also notching the quickest player in the league accolade back in March.
59. Yosuke Kashiwagi (New Entry)
Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN) / Japan / Centre Midfield
The central midfield heartbeat to Urawa Reds’ successful J-League campaign, where they finished top of the second stage. Proved a constant threat, appearing from deep to assist with the team’s goal threat which saw him return to national team duty as a regular piece of Halilhodzic’s jigsaw puzzle.
58. Tariq Ahmed (New Entry)
Al Nasr (UAE) / UAE / Centre Midfield
A key midfield component in Al Nasr’s successful year that included their unprecedented run to the ACL quarter final stage. He is the calming defensive linchpin that allows the likes of Jonathan Pitroipa and Jires Kembo-Ekoko to star in attack.
57. Sardor Rashidov (Last Year: 22)
El Jaish (QAT) / Uzbekistan / Winger
A less impactful year for his country, but a solid campaign for his club where he’s developed a strong relationship with El Jaish’s multinational attacking setup. Part of the squad that made the ACL semis, scoring against Al Ain and Lekhwiya in the knockout phase.
56. Alireza Beiranvand (Last Year: 64)
Persepolis (IRI) / Iran / Goalkeeper
Iran’s most talented keeper for a long while had another eye catching year. Part of the meanest defence in World Cup qualifying, his place was only under threat through injury in the last couple of months. Domestically, he was the highest profile signing of the summer, as he moved across town to current league leaders Persepolis from Naft Tehran.
55. Osama Hawsawi (New Entry)
Al-Hilal (KSA) / Saudi Arabia / Centre Back
Going against his reputation turned cliché, the elder and more accomplished Hawsawi has been in solid form throughout this calendar year. Captain of Al-Ahli’s dominant Saudi Pro League title winning side, before moving to Al-Hilal over the summer, Hawsawi’s influence has transferred across, leading the Riyadh giants to top spot going into the new year.
54. Abdelkarim Hassan (Last Year: 24)
Al Sadd (QAT) / Qatar / Left Back
Once again ripped apart the expected role of left back with another impressive run in front of goal, scoring four goals in 6 matches in Qatar’s AFC U23 campaign. Alongside his promising goal figures, Hassan remains one of the most dangerous left wing backs in Asia and a firm favourite for club and country.
53. Bruce Kamau (New Entry)
Melbourne City (AUS) / Australia / Winger
Once seen as an unreliable streaky winger, Kamau’s 2015/16 season turned on the year mark as Adelaide United closed in on their A-League title, going on to score his side’s opener in the Grand Final win over Western Sydney Wanderers. Now at Melbourne City, he’s continued his progression, into a deadly weapon from out wide right, which could be rewarded with a Socceroo call-up in the next year.
52. Vitaliy Denisov (Last Year: 80)
Lokomotiv Moscow (RUS) / Uzbekistan / Left Back
Dependable both in a defensive and attacking sense, Denisov usually goes under the radar when compiling top Asian performers in Europe, but it’s no fluke that Denisov continues to excel in one of Europe’s top leagues. For the national team, he remains as important a figure on the left side of defence, that has kept five WCQ clean sheets this last year.
51. Huang Bowen (New Entry)
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) / China / Right Midfield
Clinched the domestic league and cup double with Guangzhou after a season where he came to the fore for both club and country. For all his work without the ball and selflessness with it, goals have been hard to come by, but he’ll be fondly remembered for scoring a stunner in China’s must win encounter against Qatar back in March that sealed their progression to Round 3 of World Cup qualification.