Best Footballer in Asia 2018: The closest challengers

Teerasil Dangda scores on Shimizu S-Pulse debut but falls to defeat against FC Tokyo

John Duerden John Duerden

With the voting completed and the points tallied, we take a look at the four players who came close to being crowned the Best Footballer in Asia 2018.

Although there can be only one “Best Footballer in Asia”, the spotlight usually trickles down and also falls on the players that finished just below the man who shone the brightest.

2018 is no different with a fine list of players in positions second to fifth. Being the Best in Asia is amazing, being one of the best is still truly impressive.

As soon as the votes started to roll in from all over Asia, it became clear that one man would take the top prize and it soon quickly became more of a question of how many points he would win by.

More interesting was the race for second place and that was up in the air until the final votes came in.

In second place is one of the most experienced names in Asian football history.

Makoto Hasebe has been one of the most consistent performers that the continent has ever produced whether it be for club or country.

Scoring goals leads to headlines and a greater chance of individual prizes and accolades, but few players have been as influential over the years as the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder.

In over a century of international appearances, Hasebe has barely put a foot wrong and that has been the case again this year and he now ends the year in second.

He was his usual calm and composed self in 2018 and was influential and instrumental for Japan as the team reached the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup – the only Asian team to do so.

After that thrilling encounter with Belgium, he finally called it a day on the international stage and his absence could be felt when Japan are in action in January’s AFC Asian Cup 2019 as Hasebe has still be playing well in Germany.

But he does indeed deserve recognition for his international career and it is fitting that this has happened with the votes he has received in recent weeks from jurors located all across Asia.

While they do not usually hog the headlines, it is encouraging that there is a goalkeeper in third place.

Alireza Beiranvand has had what could almost be described as a perfect year. The Persepolis No. 1 has been a colossus and was between the sticks as the Tehran titans powered their way to the final of the AFC Champions League. He proved his worth with a string of fine performances though in the end, Kashima Antlers were just a little too good and took the trophy.

But it was at the World Cup where he really made headlines and not just for a fascinating backstory and a long throw of legendary proportions.

The 26-year-old impressed in Russia as Iran came so close to getting out of perhaps the toughest group in the tournament and pushed Spain and Portugal all the way.

Such performances on the continental and global stages have been recognised by a succession of jurors based in various Asian nations.

The top three then is a special one but there are still some interesting names in fourth and fifth.

When you are 22 and are named the Most Valuable Player of the AFC Champions League, then other accolades are likely to follow and that is certainly the case for Yuma Suzuki.

Kashima Antlers produced some excellent displays on the way to a first-ever continental title and their young striker was very much involved in that.

The way he linked up with Brazilian star Serginho in the tournament played a major role in Kashima ending the year as the kings of Asia.

At the age of 22, there is no reason why Suzuki can’t finish even higher in 2019.

In fifth is the only non-Asian player and few would argue that Baghdad Bounedjah does not deserve to be named as one of the best performers throughout the continent in 2018.

The Algerian attacker has been scoring goals for fun.

The recent headlines regarding Lionel Messi making the 50-goal mark in the calendar year missed the fact that the Al Sadd marksman had that achievement safely under his belt.

His 13 goals in the AFC Champions League – which saw him take home the Golden Boot by some distance – also got Al Sadd pretty close to the trophy, although they exited in the semi-finals at the hands of Persepolis.

The challenge for those who finished second to fifth this year is to aim a little higher in 2019 but for now, they should be satisfied and bask in what has been a very successful year.