Picking a World Football Asian Nations Best XI
Japan may have shown their naivety during their brief sojourn in the Confederations Cup, but their prowess was also on display.
Their attacking capabilities enthralled the public in spells and led to an enthusiastic show of support from Brazilian spectators upon their elimination following a 4-3 thriller with Italy.
Naturally this Asian Dream Team is dominated by Japanese talent—the nation, after all, are the continental champions and were the first side to qualify for the World Cup back in Brazil next summer.
This Asian Nations Best XI also taps into other nations in the continent however, presenting the cream of AFC.
Doubtless some readers will disagree with Bleacher Report’s selection. Comment down below and present a case for those players who failed to make our cut.
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Al-Habsi may have endured the toughest season of his career, but he still remains a cut above the rest of Asia’s stoppers.
As Wigan finally gave in to the seemingly inevitable pull of the English second tier, Al-Habsi found himself sidelined by the impressive form of youngster Joel Robles. He also found his year hit by injury, an irresistible window of opportunity for the Spaniard, who is loaned from Atletico Madrid.
The former Lyn Oslo keeper made a name for himself during the 2004 Asian Cup and has become the symbol of Omani football, skippering the side during their steady recent improvement.
Credited with bringing credibility to the football of the Gulf, Al-Habsi escapes Wigan’s relegation with his reputation intact.
He may choose to stick with the Latics in the second tier, as new boss Owen Coyle is reportedly a fan, but his ongoing injury fears may throw doubt on his future.
However, he's still an excellent and imposing gardien.
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Admittedly, in order to incorporate many of Asia’s more progressive talents, the defence has been a little neglected here. I have selected only three players, two of whom are attack-minded themselves.
Japan’s back line may have been torn to shreds by the attacking capabilities of Brazil and Italy during their opening (and subsequently fatal) Confederations Cup games, but nonetheless, Alberto Zaccheroni has some talented individuals to work with and has managed to construct an organised defence.
Maya Yoshida has been the more impressive of the two centre-backs—his partner Yasuyuki Konno’s best days appear to be behind him.
Yoshida had a rocky start in the Premier League with Southampton, entering a defence that was hemorrhaging goals. He managed to improve his own game and that of those around him as the season wore on, but his versatility and physical presence have served him well.
There is room for improvement, certainly, but with top-quality Asian central defenders at a premium these days, Yoshida’s role as Zaccheroni’s on-field defensive organiser has won him many admirers.
Confederations Cup mistakes will need to be eliminated before the World Cup.
Yuto Nagatomo & Atsuto Uchida
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Japan’s full-backs are often credited as being one of their most potent weapons. Beyond being a successful feature of Zaccheroni’s system, it is also credit for two of the most impressive defensive players in Asia.
Against Brazil, as reported by my colleague Jerrad Peters, Nagatomo and Uchida were faced with the menacing proposition of containing both Hulk and Neymar.
They generally managed this task and Nagatomo even found time to push higher up the field and threaten the sanctity of Dani Alves’ right flank.
The Internazionale man has blossomed into a seasoned performer following a few consistent seasons in Serie A and the dynamic full-back has overcome some of the criticism that troubled his early career.
Uchida himself has become an established defender since settling into the Schalke team back in 2010.
The pair enjoy—to an extent—the protection of their central midfield at international level, but have also demonstrated their prowess outside the Japanese set-up and as individuals.
Teams will have to learn how to cope with their persistent overlapping at the World Cup next summer.
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His recent marriage to TV star Han Hye-jin may have led to the couple being identified as the “Posh and Becks of South Korea” but Ki has more regularly been identified with another Englishman.
Since moving to the English Premier League and Welsh side Swansea City, the "Korean Gerrard" has improved emphatically.
Ki proved to be an adequate replacement for the departed Joe Allen and slotted into Swansea’s midfield well alongside Leon Britton. His technical prowess has made him an ideal fit for Michael Laudrup’s passing philosophy.
Ftbpro identified Ki as the most accurate passer in the Premier League last season, with the Korean notching up a 92.7 percent success rate over 29 EPL matches.
The central midfielder has also shown his maturity off the field as well, actively calling for the Swans to knuckle down and end their losing streak following their Capital One Cup triumph.
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This is a special crop of Japanese players and while the world may only have glimpsed this during the Confederations Cup, expect the side to make a bigger impact at the World Cup.
The pivot is Makoto Hasebe—captain, talisman and the glue that keeps Zaccheroni’s side ticking over.
The Wolfsburg man may be one of the most underrated players in Europe. He has the energy to operate as a box-to-box midfielder, the tactical discipline and forcefulness to play a holding role and possesses excellent passing ability—enough to see him function as the team’s deep-lying playmaker at times.
A figure in the Wolfsburg side that won the Bundesliga in 2009, Hasebe, alongside midfield partner Yasuhito Endo, form a vital component of Japan’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
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South Korea can look to a bright future with Koo Ja-Cheol sitting in the midfield alongside Ki Sung-Yueng.
The 2012 Olympic captain has developed into an impressive midfield talent since moving to Wolfsburg in 2011. A loan move to FC Augsburg has seen his reputation rocket and, despite being plagued by injuries, has twice helped the club steer clear from Bundesliga relegation.
Like Ki, he is a mature head on young shoulders, but he arguably offers more than the Swansea man going forward.
A master of the long shot, with a creative eye for the offensive and constantly keen to drive his team forward, Koo Ja-Cheol is shaping up to be one of Asia’s most impressive central midfielders.
Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki
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Despite conceding four against Italy in the Confederations Cup, Japan’s clash with the Azzuri was a delightful demonstration of their attacking prowess.
This was due, in no small part, to the three offensive midfielders sitting behind a lone striker.
While Shinji Okazaki started the side’s opening game with Brazil up front, he was pushed back into the line of three for the subsequent two games; against Italy and Mexico he impressed with his tireless chasing down of the ball and his expansive play.
Currently the top scorer in the AFC World Cup Qualifying program, he is one of the most dangerous players in Europe.
Alongside him two of his countrymen who require little introduction, being quite probably the finest creative talents in Asia today; Kagawa and Honda.
Since moving to Manchester United from Borussia Dortmund, Shinji Kagawa has become a favourite among Red Devils fans and, while his maiden EPL season was affected by injury, can look forward to a prosperous career at Old Trafford.
In the No. 10 position I would play Keisuke Honda, who operates effectively in this role for the Blue Samurai.
A delicate, majestic playmaker, Honda has developed his game in Russia, away from the major leagues of Western Europe. Transfer rumours have long connected him to a more exalted setting and this summer is proving to be no different.
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Park Chu-Young, tarnished at Arsenal but potent nonetheless, and Iraqi goal-getter Younis Mahmoud were considered for this spot. Ultimately, however, I was compelled to include Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min following evidence unveiled by my colleague Allan Jiang.
At only 20, Son is at a different stage of his development to everyone else on this list. Despite arriving at Hamburg back in 2008, he is still a raw talent and may yet fail to deliver on his early promise.
Nonetheless, the aforementioned promise is dazzling and with a few more encouraging years, we could be talking about a genuinely quality forward.
Arsenal and Spurs have been linked to the player in the past, attracted by his technical prowess and his effortless control of a football. It will be interesting to see how the player progresses at Leverkusen, but if things go well, the Chuncheon native could go on to make a major impact in the world game.
I struggle to see many, if any, Asian strikers—admittedly in a fairly lean era for the continent—who can match Heung-Min, even at this tender stage of his development.