5 Future Asian Stars You've Never Heard of
East Asian football is riding on the crest of a wave at present, with both Japan and South Korea progressing as footballing nations to the point where they will expect to progress from the Group Stage in Brazil next summer.
The latest Japan squad featured 10 players based in Europe, with only CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda and Standard Liege's Eiji Kawashima called from outside of what are widely considered the top four leagues in the world.
Focusing mainly on East Asia then, let's look at five players who have the potential to make big strides in European football over the coming years.
Yuya Osako (Japan)
Kashima Antlers forward Yuya Osako has enjoyed a sensational year in 2013, making his international debut for Japan and scoring 14 goals in 23 J.League appearances.
Another of Japan's current generation of hybrid attacking players, Osako plays best when utilised as a deep-lying forward and has shot into major reckoning for a starting place at the 2014 World Cup with nine goals in the month of August.
Building on the confidence he built with an impressive international debut at the East Asian Cup, where he scored twice in a 3-3 draw with China, Osako was soon the key man for club side Kashima as they beat Sao Paulo 3-2 in the Suruga Bank trophy—a game in which he scored a hat-trick.
With excellent close control and good composure in front of goal, it wont be long before the 23-year-old is heading for European shores.
Kim Young-Gwon (South Korea)
Left-sided centre-back Kim Young-Gwon has not missed a minute for Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande side in the Chinese Super League this season, starring as part of a defence that has conceded just 12 goals in 23 games.
Kim's arrival midseason in 2012 from J.League side Omiya Ardija was a real settling influence on the Evergrande defence, with the Korean forming an effective partnership with experienced Chinese international Feng Xiaoting.
It is Kim, though, who is the real star, having been the standout central defender of the league this season. Calm in possession, an impressive distributor and a good organiser, he is the composed presence that Lippi's team rely upon.
Kim has started every match since the appointment of 2002 South Korea captain Hong Myung-Bo as national team head coach earlier this summer. Kim previously featured under Hong at the 2012 Olympics, helping his side to a bronze medal.
Zhang Linpeng (China)
Another from the Evergrande side that is easing to a third consecutive league title in China, Zhang Linpeng is a centre-back turned cavaliering right-back who draws comparisons with Sergio Ramos in the local media, per Goal.com.
However, the reasons for the comparison extend beyond a positional switch. Zhang is also a fine physical specimen, combining speed and impressive strength in a similar manner to the Spaniard.
For a converted centre-back, he is very good going forward. He has chipped in with four league goals for his side this season, per Soccerway, while Sina's Opta statistics (Chinese) also tell us that he has added five assists.
His early crosses into the box are generally well delivered and have become a real feature of Evergrande's attacking play. He is China's best prospect in some time.
He must work on his positioning at full-back, which is to be expected of someone who has only played the role regularly for 12 months and also must learn to control his temper. Given his physique and powerful playing style, he would be well suited to life in Germany or England.
Yun Il-Lok (South Korea)
Another player to have really stood out at the East Asian Cup earlier this summer is South Korean playmaker Yun Il-Lok of FC Seoul.
The 21-year-old Gyeongnam academy product moved to FC Seoul at the beginning of the calendar year and has, thus far, scored four times in five Asian Champions League games to see his side into the quarterfinals.
His form has earned him a place in the Korea squad under Hong Myung-Bo and he demonstrated his class with a long-range strike against Japan in just his third appearance for his country.
Yun was the inventive force in a Korea side that created a lot of unconverted chances at the East Asian Cup, running the side in attacking areas from his No. 10 role.
Of all the players in this list, he may well be the player with the brightest future ahead of him.
Yoichiro Kakitani (Japan)
From the same Cerezo side that spawned Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake, 23-year-old Kakitani is the talented youngster that threatened to go astray for Japan. He would appear, though, to have come back with a bang.
Returning from a loan at Tokushima Vortis, Kakitani scored a useful 11 goals in the 2012 J.League, but has already gone on to better that total in less games this time around—currently lying on 14 goals for the campaign.
At international level, also, 2013 has been a good year, with Kakitani finishing as top-scorer at the East Asian Cup with three goals in his two appearances. Given Japan's search for a central striker, his performance would have come as a great relief—although Kakitani, too, prefers to play deeper.
He is an excellent finisher and, when used as a second striker or from wide, has also shown that he possesses impressive creative qualities. Like all of Japan's current generation, he is highly comfortable on the ball in tight spaces.
He will hope to earn a starting spot at the World Cup next summer and will surely be heading to Europe shortly after the tournament however he should perform in Brazil.