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Dec 27, 2012

Top ten Asian players of 2012

10. Ali Al Habsi (Oman and Wigan Athletic)

For bringing beards back into the highest levels of European football, Al Habsi deserves a mention at the very least, regardless of the fact that he is probably the best Asian goalkeeper. The former fireman from Muscat has had another good year between the posts, once again helping to carry Wigan Athletic free of the burning English Premier League basement. The headlines may go elsewhere but Habsi keeps hold of much some of the best strikers in the world send his way. He's been pretty good for his country too and is a big reason why the tiny Gulf State is still within a shout of qualifying automatically for a first ever World Cup.

9. Rozaimi Rahman (Malaysia and Harimau Muda)

The 20-year-old's first appearance in the national team shirt came against Chelsea and the confidence in his play caught the eye of the coaching staff of the European champions. He then scored ten goals in five games in an ultimately unsuccessful qualification campaign for the Asia's Under-22 championships and the hype machine started to roll. Sometimes, though, that can be a good thing and Rahman is one of a new generation of Malaysian players who not only look good, they know they are good and want to show their talents on the biggest of stages.

8. Amjad Radhi (Iraq and Arbil)

If it wasn't for all the politics, infighting and the seeking of self-interest that surrounds the Iraqi national team, the 22-year-old would be a fixture of the international scene in Asia and much better known. As it is, he hasn't done too badly. His goals helped Arbil reach the final of the AFC Cup, the first such appearance in a continental final since the times of Saddam Hussein and despite the loss to Al Kuwait, he finished top scorer in the tournament.

7. Teerasil Dangda (Thailand and Muangthong United)

A great year for South-east Asia's top striker with the only blemish coming right at the end. Despite finishing the AFF Suzuki Cup as the top scorer with five, he couldn't find the sixth in the final that would have given the title to Thailand instead of Singapore. At least he managed both individual and team honours in the Thai Premier League, setting a new record goal haul of 24 as Muangthong strolled to the title. Interest and offers from overseas - both in Asia and Europe - are there or almost there. If he can be as clinical and decisive with contracts as with crosses, he'll be OK.

6. Yuto Nagatomo (Japan and Inter)

Playing at the highest level has this dynamic wing-back improving all the time. In his J.League days, opinion was divided as to whether he could actually defend but there is no such debate these days. He has become a consistent performer in Serie A, getting up and down the wing to maximum effect and earning the respect of fans and media in Italy. On the international stage he is just as good. Asian World Cup qualifiers hold no fears for the defender with a passion for drumming and he showed just how good he can be as Japan went to Paris in October to defeat France 1-0.

5. Bambang Pamungkas (Indonesia and Persija Jakarta)

Sometimes it is not just about scoring goals, though Bambang has done that once again, managing 16 for his club, his love, Persija Jakarta, but he has done much, much more. Emerging as a spokesperson for players in the troubled football nation of Indonesia who are tired of not getting paid on time, 'Bepe' has shown vision and leadership in a country where it is in short supply, in the football field at least. He has also spoke out against the division in Indonesian football - with two leagues and FAs - and tried to reclaim the national team for the fans. It may be hard for others to copy what Bambang does on the pitch but all can learn from the striker off it.

4. Lee Keun-ho (South Korea and Ulsan Horangi)

For once, there was no argument about the AFC's official Player of 2012 award, pretty much everyone agreed that of all those in action in Asia, Lee was the main man. The attacker was at the heart of many of the good things that Ulsan Horang-I did on their irresistible charge to the 2012 Asian Champions League. He didn't score as many as Rafinha and didn't have the presence of inspirational captain Kwak Tae-hwi but some of his performances, especially away at Al Hilal and Bunyodkor (tough places to go) were of the highest standard.

3. Koo Ja-cheol (South Korea and FC Augsburg)

The young midfielder ticked all the boxes in 2012 - impressive for the South Korean national team, very impressive with FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga and inspirational in leading his country to the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics. The game for the bronze medal between Japan and Korea was perhaps the high point of 2012 on the pitch for Asia, and for Koo it was just the latest in a string of high-class performances.

While his spectacular strikes from the edge of the box have been catching the eye in Germany - as well as his contretemps with Franck Ribery - back in East Asia, fans know that Koo is developing into a fine driving midfield player who is set to be at the heart of the South Korean team for years to come. 2013 could be the year in which he makes it really big.

2. Shinji Kagawa (Japan and Manchester United)

If helping Borussia Dortmund to a second successive league title, and the cup to boot, and then earning a big-money move to Manchester United wasn't enough, Kagawa immediately answered the rather bizarre question as to whether a Japanese player could handle the Premier League. He quickly became a favourite with the Old Trafford faithful, adding incisiveness and an attacking outlet to United that had been lacking, though injury cut short his contribution. His form for Japan has not reached the same heights but has been pretty good nonetheless as the Samurai Blue saunter through the final round of qualification, admiring the scenery on the way.

1. Omar Abdulrahman (UAE and Al Ain)

Come for the hairstyle, stay for the skills, Abdulrahman did more for the worldwide reputation of UAE and West Asian football in three games at the London Olympics than most others manage in a career, if they manage at all. 2012 saw the birth of what could be the first West Asian world star. His confidence, ball control, technique and willingness to drive forward against European and South American opposition were all revelations. The talk in Europe was that this boy, still just 21, was a 'player' and his low centre of gravity was compared to a certain other curly-haired maestro.

He helped Al Ain win the UAE title in convincing fashion - and is doing so again - trained with Manchester City before wisely deciding not to join the English champions. Surely a sound move, but with interest from England, Spain, France and Germany, it is only a matter of time before he heads to a bigger league. The one worry is, despite his tender years, his knees are already looking a little worn.

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