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Monday, December 27, 2010
Honda the driving force of Asian football

John Duerden

Asian football has enjoyed another good year. 2010 may have been mainly about the World Cup, one in which teams from the East performed well, but there have been a whole host of players starring for club teams all over the planet. Here, we run through the top performers. 1. Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow and Japan) There weren't too many memorable moments on the pitches of South Africa in June and the fact that two of them came from the same player (in the same game) demonstrates the impact that Keisuke Honda has had in 2010. His fantastic free-kick against Denmark put the Jabulani-jabbers to shame, while a little later, his star turn to create Japan's third was a delightful piece of skill that confirmed the Blue Samurai's progress to the World Cup second round and his place at the top of this list. Coupled with his exploits in the UEFA Champions League for CKSA Moscow, it has been an amazing 12 months and where Honda will go next is debated not only in the Japanese media but all over Asia and Europe. 2. Park Ji-Sung (Manchester United and South Korea) Park has been the top Asian player of the past few years and 2010 was another good one for the 29 year-old. His form for Manchester United is currently as good as it has ever been and his absence for the Asian Cup next month is being lamented at Old Trafford. Park's father said that the competition will be his son's last for his country, but that remains to be seen. The player was also impressive when leading his team to within sight of the last eight in South Africa - his inspirational role as captain for a young Taeguk Warriors team is often overlooked and underappreciated. 3. Tim Cahill (Everton and Australia) The Australian midfielder had a mixed World Cup but still enjoyed a great 2010. Harshly sent off in the opening defeat at the hands of Germany, the Everton midfielder returned to star against Serbia as the Socceroos ended their South African sojourn with a thrilling win. The 31 year-old continues to go from strength to strength in the English Premier League, excelling as the Toffees' talisman. 4. Lee Chung-Yong (Bolton Wanderers and South Korea) Lee hasn't had a break from playing football since January 2009. Despite that, the winger has become an integral part of a Bolton Wanderers team that is pushing for a place in Europe, although this summer is likely to see the player leave the Reebok with Korean sources predicting a move to Liverpool or Arsenal. He proved in South Africa - with goals against Argentina and Uruguay - that he can handle life on the biggest stage and, at just 22, an even brighter future beckons. 5. Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund and Japan) The midfielder was virtually unknown outside Japan before the summer and so his move from Cerezo Osaka to Borussia Dortmund slipped under the radar a little - understandable as the 21 year-old wasn't even part of the Blue Samurai's World Cup squad. Many back home though felt that exclusion was a mistake and those ranks have been swelled since due to the fact that Kagawa has been a sensation in Germany with the runaway Bundesliga leaders. He is now a regular fixture for Japan and ready to star at the upcoming Asian Cup in Qatar. 6. Badar Al Mutwa (Al Qadsia and Kuwait) For someone who offers so much more than goal-scoring, Bader Al Mutwa scores a lot of goals. He is a hugely influential player for both club and country and seems to have been around for a long time for someone who is just 25. He got over his disappointment at losing the AFC Cup final by helping Kuwait to the Gulf Cup title for the first time since 1998 and has been linked with a move to Spain. 7. Sasa Ognenovski (Seongnam and Australia) It has been a dream year for the big defender. His exploits for Korean team Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma started to be reported in the Australian media and then in Asia as a whole after he captained the K-League powerhouses to the Asian Champions League title. He was then named Player of the Tournament and followed that up by also picking up the AFC Player of the Year prize. If that wasn't enough, he finally made his debut for the Socceroos too. 8. Jong Tae-Se (Bochum and North Korea) This wasn't the best of years form-wise for the North Korean, but Jong put his nation and Asian football in the pages of newspapers all around the world in June. Always an emotional player, Jong's tears during the national anthems of the game against Brazil in Johannesburg became an iconic image for Asian football on the world stage, joining Saeed Owairan's mazy dribble in 1994 for Saudi Arabia and the crowds in Seoul in 2002. Jong wants to play in England but for the moment is with Bochum in the Bundesliga second tier. So far, he has settled well. 9. Youssef Mohamad (FC Koln and Lebanon) Mohamad doesn't get the plaudits and praise he deserves. Perhaps it is because he plays in defence for a fairly unfashionable Rhineland club and perhaps it is also because he hails from a nation with little in the way of football pedigree. But, not only has he established himself as a mainstay of the defence that was one of the more solid in Germany last season, he was also named club captain - a little-reported event but a significant one for Asian football. 10. Javad Nekounam (Osasuna and Iran) ) An unfortunate aspect of Iran's failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup was the fact that the all-action midfielder wasn't able to show his talents to a wider audience and, as he has now turned 30, he will not get too many more chances. Still, the Prince of Persia has enjoyed another good season for club - he has had opportunities to move from Osasuna but is still in Pamplona - and for country. Nekounam is perhaps the greatest leader in Asian football and has been an integral figure in the improvement of the Iranian team in 2010.


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