#SFGTop100 Asia 2016 – 21-30

We’re edging closer to the Top 20 in our #SFGTop100 in Asia countdown as we look at those players ranked 21-30. Indeed in this batch, we have five players who slipped out of the Top 20 from last year, but also include an English Premier League champion and two of Asia’s most impressive Olympians from last summer. Our team compromising of Ahmed Hashim, Tom Danicek, Martin Lowe, Tim Lee, Sina Saemian and Hassanin Mubarak have put together the following profiles, if you have any comments let us know via Twitter.

al-haydos

30. Hassan Al-Haidos (Last Year: 13)
Al Sadd (QAT) / Qatar / Attacker

Hassan Al-Haidos’s form may have dipped a little following last season but he remains as important as ever to both club and country. The year just gone by saw the national team go through a difficult phase and although Al-Haydos himself underwent an injury-plagued end to 2016, he has been inspirational in helping his teammates to weather the storm. A look at his contributions over the past 12 months will highlight why he deserves a place in this list.

Al-Sadd may not have won any titles in 2015/16 (coming third in the league and losing in both the Emir Cup and Sheikh Jassim Cup finals) but for Al-Haidos, it was his best season ever in terms of goals scored in the league (12) and also goals scored per game. His mark of 0.51 pipped the 0.44 he set in 2014/15.

Despite missing out on the silverware, Al-Sadd have shown good form in the calendar year and Al-Haidos has been at the centre of it. He finished the year with a tally of 22 goals and 7 assists, which could have been higher had it not been for an injury which affected him badly at the end of the year. He first suffered what seemed to be a groin injury in the game against Muaither in October, going on to miss the next two games. After returning to action for both club and country, it was evident that he wasn’t the same, leading to another medical test and the diagnosis of a sports hernia injury. He underwent successful surgery in Germany but is yet to recover fully at the time of writing.

At international level, Qatar had a turbulent year which saw them struggle in the third round of World Cup qualifying subsequently firing coach Daniel Carreno. The team has improved markedly since the appointment of former boss Jorge Fossati, a man who gave a 17-year old Al-Haydos his club debut a decade ago. In the first game under Fossati, Qatar took a 2-1 lead over South Korea in Seoul with Al-Haidos providing a goal and an assist, before falling to a narrow 2-3 defeat. Next up was Syria at home and Al-Haidos stepped up to score the only goal and give his country their first points of the campaign.

Highlight of the Year – Goalscoring form at the end of last season

As mentioned above, Al-Haidos set his best ever goal-per-game ratio in 2015/16 and that was achieved partly because of his fiery form at the end of the season, where he scored eight goals in the last 8 matches for the Wolves. The best of it came in the thrilling win over Al-Rayyan in the Emir Cup semifinal, where Al-Haidos came up with two goals and an assist to down the league champions. Al-Sadd went on to reach their fifth straight Emir Cup final where Al-Haidos set up Baghdad Bounedjah to score the first goal against Lekhwiya. But unfortunately for him, Al-Sadd ended up losing on penalties. AH

wu-xi

29. Wu Xi (New Entry)
Jiangsu Suning (CHN) / China / Defensive Midfield

There can’t be many players living in such a shadow as Wu Xi has been this year. Be that behind your namesake, the headline grabbing attacking brilliance of Wu Lei of Shanghai SIPG, or being a backing part of super-rich, now Chinese Super League mega club Jiangsu Suning. He even shares a name with a city in Jiangsu province (Wuxi). But it’s to be recognised that he remains an integral, effectual piece alongside of the worldly talents of Alex Texieria and Ramires, and deserves the same amount of praise.

Jiangsu’s skipper has been a regular at the heart of their title challenge this season, tasked with the less glamourous side of the game, allowing the South American flair to flourish ahead of him. That is exactly what Wu does well, organises the team vocally, halts opposing attacks quickly and recycles the ball without much fuss. He’s the silent partner in what is becoming a big noise in Asian and world football, but the midfielder, in his fourth season at the club, is the realistic, home born player that can relate the short term success with their local fan base.

His progression will no doubt see him become a regular in the national team too, after previously being used as a makeshift full back under Alan Perrin, to being criminally underused by the now departed Gao Hongbo, he started and defensively impressed in Marcello Lippi’s first game in charge. His performances may not be especially eye catching, but Wu may prove to become essential in Lippi’s Chinese reconstruction going into the new year.

Highlight of the Year – Hitting the winner in Jiangsu’s ACL home opener

At the start of an historic year for the club, Jiangsu returned to the Asian Champions League for the second time, and in what was their first home match of the season, Wu had a notable attacking hand in their win over eventual champions Jeonbuk Motors. First assisting with a pinpoint cross onto Jo’s head for Jiangsu’s second, Wu went on to score what turned out to be the winner. For a player that is known more for his defensive duties, Wu went on to score his second of the group stage against Binh Duong in April. ML

juric

28. Tomi Jurić (New Entry)
FC Luzern (SUI) / Australia / Striker

It was quite ironic, when you think about it, that on September 1st, a notoriously injury-prone striker by the name of Tomi Jurić confidently stepped in for the game vs Iraq to fill in for a presumably unfit iron man by the name of Tim Cahill, who wouldn’t even come off the bench for only the second time throughout these World Cup qualifiers (and, well, the first instance was a 7-0 thrashing of Tajikistan).

It wasn’t a complete surprise, no; many had been aware of the striker’s potential. But only on that night, when Tomi Jurić scored one goal and assisted on the other, the same number of people probably realized he could actually make it as a successor to Tim Cahill. And it was just a beginning. In October, he would bring nightmares back to the Saudis as he followed up on his 2014 Champions League winner vs Al-Hilal with a crucial goal in Jeddah, and then he at least won a penalty against Japan.

With no Jurić and no Cahill in November, a timid Australia needed two penalties to draw with Thailand, which may have served as an accurate teaser for 2017. Without either of those two, it just won’t work.

He’s a different player to Cahill. He’s quite agile and isn’t slow (without being lightning quick), and gets into good positions in the box, which is how he scored both of his goals this year against Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” says journalist and friend of SFG Paul Williams, while stressing that Jurić should never remain isolated up top.

As for the club scene, that’s a peculiar one. Jurić finished 2015 on a high note with Roda in Netherlands, being the most prolific player of the Kerkrade side up until the end of December and registering four of the last seven Roda goals going into the winter break. Then the usual injury happened, a weak end of spring followed, his contract was mutually terminated, and now Jurić is starting from scratch in Switzerland.

Early reviews are fine, though he isn’t exactly a goal-scoring machine. “Not a technician but a hard worker with a strong body. Looks sometimes very confused, maybe due to language barriers, but has a good spatial orientation and anticipates well. Good in the air, strong in tackles, good ball covering,” a Luzern fan shares his first impressions of Jurić with me on Twitter. Let’s see how that develops…

Highlight of the Year – A Bergkamp-esque finish for his most recent club goal

As I suggested above, Tomi Jurić is yet to really set the Swiss Super League alight as far as his goalscoring record goes, but you may well argue he prefers quality over quantity. Because on October 23, aiming for only his second league goal from open play against St. Gallen, Tomi Jurić made this wonderful tribute to that Dennis Bergkamp’s immortal piece of improvisation. And I just couldn’t stop watching… TD

FBL-OLY-2016-RIO-KOR-MEX

27. Kwon Chang-hoon (Last Year: 67)
Suwon Bluewings (KOR) / South Korea / Attacking Midfield

There was no doubt that this season had the potential to be the most consequential one yet for 22 year-old Kwon Chang-hoon. Coming off of a breakthrough year where he went from barely known to a household name, talks of Europe were swirling. Not to mention the Olympics, where the multi functional midfielder had the potential to show off his breathless box-to-box runs, tantalizingly dangerous attacking versatility and clutch goal scoring ability.

But admittedly, Kwon’s club season hardly went as planned. Suwon Bluewings were a meme this season – the guy poking the Bluewings’ logo with a stick saying “do something”. Shocking dysfunctional, defensively woeful and mentally unable to hold a lead (having conceded the most goals after 85+ minutes), Kwon could not carry the Bluewings out of the bottom half in time for the league split. His attacking clout was diluted, his creative instincts steering towards devoid. But that being said, on a very poor team indeed, Kwon undoubtedly came out as its best player. To succeed on winning teams is one feat; to still impress fairly consistently on struggling ones is another.

Kwon equally faced some troubles with the U-23 side that made up the Olympic team. Shin Taeyong seemed keen on deploying Kwon in a wide midfield position, where he categorically does not thrive. However, despite his reduced role, Kwon still was the second top scorer in the AFC U23 Championship with 5 tallies, as well as adding a brace against Fiji in the Olympic opener. That was merely an appetizer for what was undoubtedly his season highlight – a game-winner against Mexico in the final group game that secured the Taeguk Warriors’ victory of a group that had both the defending Olympic champions and the U23 program of the defending World champions.

You’d be right to say this season didn’t have the shine, the spark or the razzle-dazzle of 2015. But in a year plagued with less glamorous challenges, the young Korean midfielder passed impressively. Don’t believe me? As these lines are written, Kwon is reportedly on a plane to France where he’ll soon undertake a medical for Dijon. He will be the first high profile Korean transfer to Europe in 2 years. Seriously, Dijon have a promising prospect on their hands.

Highlight of the Year – Kwon Chang-hoon 1, Mexico 0

For 78 minutes, Korea had been labouring against Mexico in the Brazilian heat. It’s the final group game, and with Germany running up the score against Fiji, neither side wants to give too much away to the other, for the loser will almost certainly be going home. Though Mexico have been on the front foot, chances are few and far between, and only a moment of pure magic seems required; enter Kwon.

A corner comes in and Suk Hyunjun can only knock it up backwards… the ball clears out towards the lip of the penalty box. Kwon takes a touch and puts his gears into motion, make a rounding run back into the box, blowing past one defender, then knocking the ball ahead to evade two more before it happened. A rocket finish into the top mesh of the net. An unstoppable, devastating strike signed Kwon Chang-hoon from 12 yards.

It was a quintessentially Kwon goal. It wasn’t cute or fancy. It came out of a dirty position – a recycled corner – and Kwon just made a direct, winding run with a punctual exclamation mark finish. To do this on the international stage, in a do-or-die game, against a highly respectable opponent, takes guts. History would probably smile more on this finish had the Koreans taken advantage of their easier draw to the semi finals and beaten Honduras in their following encounter. But for now, Europe will take a chance on Suwon’s favourite son. And really, if you consider Kwon Chang-hoon’s ability to score crucial goals like this one, why shouldn’t they? TL

okazaki

26. Shinji Okazaki (Last Year: 57)
Leicester City (ENG) / Japan / Striker

One of the greatest footballing underdog tales of all time had more than a little to do with Asia, as Leicester City’s unlikely English Premier League victory was spurred along in no small part due to their Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki. While Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy hogged the headlines, Okazaki quietly got on with his tireless work alongside Vardy in attack, epitomising the work ethic and attacking impetus the Foxes’ campaign was known for.

Whilst only scoring twice for Leicester in the second half of their title winning season, both goals were of value, notching the only goal in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa, before scoring a stunning bicycle kick winner against Newcastle United in March. Despite the paltry number of goals, Okazaki was utilised more for his all round game rather than his predatory instincts which he had become known for, making him a firm fan favourite at the King Power Stadium.

For the Samurai Blue, Okazaki has found things a tad more difficult, with the likes of Takuma Asano and Yuya Osako jumping ahead of him in the pecking order. Despite this he recorded a pair of goals for Japan over the year and is unlikely to fall out of favour in terms of squad involvement, given his experience and impressive national team goal tally, which has now risen to 49.

Highlight of the Year – Lifting the Premier League trophy

Equalling the feat achieved by countryman Shinji Kagawa with Manchester United in 2013, Okazaki became the second Japanese ever player to lift the English Premier League title, but his influence was to a much greater degree than his predecessor. He was also part of the year’s social media highlights after being videoed alongside teammates at Jamie Vardy’s famous house party celebrating Tottenham Hotspur’s draw with Chelsea that confirmed Leicester’s title win.

Speaking of his disbelief at the time, he said: “If we celebrated on the pitch I think it would sink in, but we were at someone’s house when it happened, cheering on another team which is something we wouldn’t normally do.” Given the hard work he put in during the season, he in particular deserved the party that ensued. ML

abdulameer

25. Saad Abdulameer (New Entry)
Al-Qadisiyah (KSA) / Iraq / Central Midfield

2015 was the year of Yaser Kasim, however as the Swindon Town midfielder wrestled his own demons in the English League One as he went AWOL in the summer, his national team-mate Saad Abdulameer took it upon himself to marshal the Iraqi khat al-wasat (midfield) in his absence, heroically captaining the Iraqi team at the Rio Olympics, a leading example in Abdul-Ghani Shahad’s team.

In the early part of 2016 standing waiting outside the freezing PAS stadium in Tehran after the aftermath of Iraq’s abject navigation to the final stage of the World Cup qualifiers as a result of a lacklustre 1-0 victory over Vietnam, came the rebirth of Saad. In his coy manner and timid timbre he cried that he, unlike other more popular players in the Iraqi team did not possess “an army of writers” on social media to get behind him. That Saad is no more, with the No.21, one of the first names on Radhi Shanaishel’s team-sheet.

In the summer he rubbed shoulders with some of the best in the world at the Rio Olympics scoring Iraq’s solitary goal against South Africa, and in his new found fighting spirit, headed in his country’s first goal against Japan in 16 years. Saad, at 28, is an Iraqi captain in the making, (currently VC to Alaa Abdul-Zahra) after the retirements of veterans Younis Mahmoud, Nour Sabri, Ali Rahema and Salam Shaker early this year.

His accession to take the Iraqi armband has come after years of perseverance after many doubters of his talents, spending many of his early years under Wolfgang Sidka as understudy to the big names in the Lions of Mesopotamia team, waiting calmly and patiently for his opportunity. Six years ago Saad came into the international fold after impressing for the Iraqi School team! In the summer of 2010, weeks after he had won the Arab School Championship in Beirut beating Egypt 2-1 in the final, Saad was involved in Sidka’s first squad, and was one of only three players from the initial preliminary squad that was selected for the final 2010 WAFF Championship squad.

The retirement of Qusai Munir and a career threatening injury to Muthanna Khalid saw Saad come to the fore become Iraq’s most experienced player in midfield in the run-up to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, four years after he had sat on the bench at the 2011 tournament in Doha watching Qusai and Nashat Akram organising the midfield. Down Under, Saad formed a strong midfield partnership with Swindon Town’s Yaser Kasim that was one of the reasons for Iraq reaching the semi-finals.

Iraq’s captain at the Olympics, Saad came into the tournament on the back of the some of the best displays of his career after a commanding first season as a professional at newly promoted Khobar-based Al-Qadisiya in the Saudi Abdul Latif Jamel league – with his club finishing a respectable 11th in the Saudi league. The midfielder is now a mainstay with the struggling Red and Yellow shirts, with his team capsulizing the same kind of fighting character that Saad is known for, never giving up, whatever the obstacle or hurdle.

Highlight of the Year – His history-breaking goal against Japan

As said Saad notched Iraq’s first goal in 16 year against the Samurai Blue, a goal in the end that should’ve led his country onto greater things. His equalising goal in Saitama Stadium looked to engineer Iraq’s first point of Round 3, after two matches previous that they also didn’t deserve to lose. In the end a cruel late winner halted their progress, but the Iraqi players to a man could help their heads high; Saad in particular who embodied the fighting spirit shown that day. HM

ITALY SOCCER SERIE A

24. Keisuke Honda (Last Year: 19)
AC Milan (ITA) / Japan / Attacking Midfield

Now into his 30’s, Keisuke Honda is reaching his peak in terms of performance, an area in which he’s excelled with the Samurai Blue over the last 12 months, while other high profile names continually disappoint. When you consider his direct peer Shinji Kagawa has far from met his expectations over the past 5 years, Honda, sometimes put in his shadow by the national team coach has surely overcome that assumption that he’s merely a support act and that he is in fact Japan’s star turn.

Far from a problem child in the squad either that he may have been years before, Honda has grown into the role of an experienced campaigner, maybe in the void left by outgoing midfield stalwart Yasuhito Endo. His flexibility to the cause was seen this year, in moving into an unfamiliar false 9 position against Australia and being used from the bench against Saudi Arabia (earlier than expected at HT). He didn’t complain, like he shouldn’t do but his performance crucially didn’t falter. Honda has been around the block enough to know when to turn up and how to; demonstrated by the fact both of his goals this year came from headers (again), showing his growth into an all-round performer. Not your stereotypical wide man.

Domestically, it was a year of ups and downs for Honda, who looks destined to move away from Italy, if not this winter by the summer at least. At the start of the year, he was cemented in the team under first Sinisa Mihajlovic then Cristian Brocchi after him, but has found game time a little trickier to guarantee under Vincenzo Montella this term. His time in Milan has been rocky to say the least, but up until this season he’s been a regular in the squad. What’s next for Honda? Well, certainly not China after his agent rubbished links of him returning East. MLS looks the preferred destination for the former Nagoya man.

Highlight of the Year – His false 9 evolution in Australia

In one of the most fascinating tactical displays of 2016, Japan’s visit to Australia in World Cup qualification pitted two of the best side’s on the continent against one another. While the end result was a stalemate, and the football on offer was a bit blunt, the tactical gameplay was very interesting. Honda’s part within it all, playing as a false 9 was utilised like an ace in the pack.

His all round game worked wonders for a Japan attack that fed on the counterattack in Melbourne. Honda didn’t stand out with anything flashy, but that wasn’t his job, he was there to hold the ball up, suck in his markers before releasing those around him. The game plan nearly worked wonders, with Japan scoring early with Honda delicately laying on Haraguchi for the opener. In the end they probably scored too early, allowing the Socceroos back in, but the idea worked to point, with Honda at the tip of the attack. ML

sergeev

23. Igor Sergeev (Last Year: 17)
Beijing Guoan (CHN) / Uzbekistan / Striker

Much to do with Igor Sergeev’s slip outside the Top 20 this year has to do with a summer move that just hasn’t worked out for him. After another prolific start to the year with outgoing Uzek Pro League champions Pakhtakor, Sergeev made the move eastwards to the Chinese Super League with Beijing Guoan. In the end his 6 month loan spell wasn’t a happy one, only commanding 7 starts and one goal for his troubles, leaving a big question mark over his future going into 2017.

As said, for the first 6 months of the year Sergeev was on fire, following up his impressive domestic haul of 24 goals in 30 league matches last term with an equally impressive 11 in 15 for Pakhtakor before his move to China. His record in the Champions League was no less impressive scoring five goals in 6 group stage matches ahead of his club’s elimination; Sergeev left as the most productive Asian player in the competition.

For the national team, Sergeev again will feel happy with some aspects more than others. His position at the point of the attack is now nailed on, starting all five matches in Uzbekistan’s promising Round 3 campaign. But on the other hand he failed to hit the target over that period, Uzbekistan started the year with 5 consecutive 1-0 victories and since then only scored three goals in their final three matches of 2016.

Sergeev, now a staple, is already a known factor in Asia, with defenders now paying a greater deal of interest in his play, and another factor is new coach Samvel Babayan’s more defensive approach. His more cautious setup is getting the results desired from the fans, but hasn’t supplied their star striker with a bundle full of chances.

Sergeev remains a top striker, one of Asia’s most comfortable lone frontmen, but he’s fallen foul of a number of circumstances, not all of his own making this year. His inevitable return to Pakhtakor over the winter break will be met with open arms (if they decide not to cash in) given his parent club’s slide since he exited (failing to clinch ACL football for the first time in four years). 2017 offers a year full of possibilities for our favourite Uzbek striker.

Highlight of the Year – A devastating ACL group stage with Pakhtakor

The then captain of the Tashkent domestic champions was in red hot form in the ACL group stage, which in the end culminated in elimination, not without their star striker excelling in front of goal. Sergeev illustrated his full array of talents in his six efforts; his typical heading ability which he’s grown famous for (away in Riyadh v. Al-Hilal), an instinctive finish against Tractor Sazi and his persistent work rate to close down defenders and force errors for goals against Al-Hilal & Al-Jazira at home. ML

alireza

22. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Last Year: 18)
AZ Alkmaar (NED) / Iran / Winger

The last few years have seen the rise of Alireza Jahanbakhsh from one of youngest players in the Persian Gulf Pro League, to one of the best young talents in the Dutch Eredivisie. This year was no different for the 23 year old winger, though he had a slow start to his career at AZ Alkmaar, 2016 saw him take his game to another level to become one of the most sought after players in the Dutch top division.

Following his move to AZ Alkmaar from NEC in summer of 2015, he did not enjoy the best of form in 2015/16 season. He spent the majority of first half of the 2015/16 season in the stands due to a few injuries, but as the year turned, he had regained full fitness and he began to gain some form and momentum. From January 2016 until May, he made 16 appearances for AZ in the league in which he scored 3 and assisted 5 goals. Those contributions helped the club qualify for the UEFA Europa League for the 2016/17 season.

Jahanbakhsh is often praised for his great attitude and professionalism, he trained and worked hard during the summer and his efforts have paid off enjoying a fantastic start to the season. He has already scored more goals than the entirety of last season, with 4 goals and 4 assists in 14 league appearances, he has his eyes set on bigger things. There are already rumours in the January transfer window that Dutch giants, Ajax and PSV are considering making a move for him, alongside other reported interests from across Europe for the Iranian. In an interview in 2015, he had admitted that he dreams of playing for a club of Manchester United’s stature, 2017 is going to be a very crucial year for him if he is to fulfil his dreams.

His role in the Iran national team is getting bigger and bigger also. Carlos Queiroz had previously received some criticism for not using Jahanbakhsh as efficiently and often as he should. But Jahanbakhsh has performed his way into becoming one of the first names on the teamsheet alongside other key players such as Jalal Hosseini, Ehsan Hajsafi and Sardar Azmoun. He is slowly becoming the player that many fans were hoping he would, a player that can succeed the legendary Mehdi Mahdavikia on the right side of the Iranian national team. Him and Sardar Azmoun are the poster boys of Team Melli and they both will have to be on top form if Iran is to qualify for Russia 2018.

Highlight of the year – His spectacular goal v Qatar in World Cup qualification

There were a few highlights to choose from, such as his incredible long range goal for AZ against Heracles, but arguably his best moment came in September and in an Iran shirt. Iran were playing at home against Qatar in their World Cup Qualification campaign, it was a must win game for the Iranians in front of around 80,000 supporters. As the game looked like it was going end in a stalemate, Reza Ghoochannejhad gave Iran the lead just minutes into added time.

That was moments before Andranik Teymourian sent a diagonal cross from deep to the right side of the pitch, as the ball was about to land, Jahanbakhsh took a touch with his right foot to change the direction of the ball and move it to his left foot, before sending a half volley just outside the box with his weaker foot which found its way into the bottom corner of the net. That spectacular moment from Jahanbakhsh was the last action of the game as Iran ran out 2-0 winners. SS

ryan

21. Mat Ryan (Last Year: 2)
Valencia (ESP) / Australia / Goalkeeper

It’s been another year of contrasts for Mat Ryan, who has suffered from a lack of game time at his club side Valencia, but conversely continues to excel for the Socceroos, hence his inclusion in our list. It’s been a tough time for Asia’s top shot stopper in Spain, but there’s still been some light to be taken from his ordeal; three clean sheets from four in the Europa League knockout stages at the start of the year, but past that it looks like he’s heading away from the former Spanish champions who are suffering relegation worries at present.

Getting the negatives out of the way, there still remains plenty of positives to take forward in his career, given he’s still 24 and continually putting in steady and at times stunning displays in goal for Australia. On paper, Australia  after starting well in Round 3 of qualification  have stumbled of late, but it could’ve been a lot worse without Ryan. A couple of saves, one in particular from Fahad Al-Muwallad, kept a rampant Saudi side at bay in Jeddah, while he also pulled off a few decent stops to deny Thailand a historic win in November.

His game has arguably improved as well, despite the very little he’s played domestically. His trait of acting like a sweeper keeper has lessened, to the benefit of Australian fans’ hearts, and he generally looks to take confidence within his penalty box more. With a back four that is continually shifting, and a number of different systems being deployed, Ryan remains a pillar in the starting line-up. Going into the new year, many around Europe could do a lot worse than snapping up Ryan in January. If not, Australian fans seem unaffected for now.

Highlight of the Year – A key performer in October as Australia wobbled

Australia finished 2016 pretty limply, but without their keeper instead of three draws from their final three matches, they could’ve very easily finished with 0 points after all. Their October ties away in Saudi Arabia followed by Japan at home, Ryan with two stunning saves kept them in contention for qualification going into 2017.

Minutes to play in Jeddah, Al-Muwallad went through on goal with the home crowd behind him only to be superbly denied by the imposing Ryan flying out to deny the one-on-one opportunity. Days later in Melbourne, Ryan pulled off another memorable moment, clawing away Yu Kobayashi’s corner of the net bound header to deny a second-half winner. It’s world class performances like this that must not go ignored by Voro Gonzalez back in Valencia. ML

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