10 young stars to watch out for
Kuala Lumpur: Ahead of the 2019 AFC Champions League group stage, we look at 10 youngsters who could make the difference for their respective teams.
From Omar Abdulrahman to Wu Lei to Omar Khribin, some of the biggest stars in Asian football have announced themselves through the AFC Champions League over the years.
The Continent's prime club competition returns with the group stage of the 2019 edition starting next week. The-AFC.com looks at 10 players the age of 22 and under who could be the next big hit in this year's campaign.
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Bassam Al Rawi (Al Duhail)
Bassam Al Rawi returned to club duty after cementing his status as one of the nation's top young talents, having starred in Qatar's AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 title-winning campaign.
A versatile defensive player, Al Rawi is capable of playing at centre-back, right-back and defensive midfield. The 21-year-old is a tidy passer of the ball, and possesses vision to deliver pinpoint cross-field balls. His ability to strike a set-piece was on display at its best during the AFC Asian Cup where he scored two direct free-kicks, against Lebanon and Iraq.
After graduating from the Aspire Academy, Al Rawi made his QSL debut for Al Duhail in 2017 and is now a mainstay at both club and country levels.
Hiroki Abe (Kashima Antlers)
One of the rising stars of Japanese football, Hiroki Abe enjoyed a fabulous 2018, in which the then 19-year-old forward helped Kashima Antlers win their maiden continental title and was then named the J.League’s Young Player of the Year.
Abe made his AFC Champions League debut in the 2017 group stage, but it was a year later when he became a first-team regular. He scored his maiden goal in the competition in the 2018 quarter-final win over Tianjin Quanjian, while he also started in both legs of the final against Persepolis.
Usually deployed on the left wing but also able to play as a second striker, Abe possesses great dribbling ability and is not afraid to shoot from distance – as shown in his goal above for Japan at the 2019 AFC U-19 Championship.
Safaa Hadi (Al Zawraa)
Another name who impressed during the recent AFC Asian Cup. Safaa Hadi played every minute of Iraq's four matches as they exited in the Round of 16 at the hands of eventual winners Qatar.
The central midfielder made his AFC Cup debut in February 2018 and marked it with a goal in Al Zawraa's 1-1 draw against Lebanon's Al Ahed. He started each of the team's six group stage matches. In November 2018, he made his international debut against Bolivia.
Described by some as a "ball-winning machine", Hadi is often deployed as the deepest-lying midfielder. He excels at breaking oppositions' attacks and recycling possession for his teams.
The 20-year-old boasts a powerful left-foot and although he often prefers to play short simple passes, he has the ability to catch opponents off guard with the odd defence-splitting through pass.
Supachai Jaided (Buriram United)
Buriram United forward Supachai Jaided had a breakthrough year in 2018 in which he made his first AFC Champions League appearance, scored two goals for Thailand’s U-23s at the Asian Games and then made his full international debut.
Three goals for Thailand at the 2018 AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Cup and a further goal at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 have already shown the forward has what it takes to compete at international level as he has quickly developed into a first-team regular.
While the goals have been flowing for his country, Supachai has not found the net with such regularity for Buriram. With the departure of their prolific Brazilian striker Diogo, the Pattani-born forward will now look to add more goals to his game for his club.
Allahyar Sayyad (Esteghlal)
IR Iran U-17 international Allahyar Sayyad was snapped up by Esteghlal from Saipa in June 2018 aged just 16, testament to the exceptional talent the forward possesses. His prowess was best on display in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup where he was Team Melli's top scorer with three goals, helping the team reach the quarter-finals.
Sayyad is an out-and-out striker, his biggest assets are his poacher instinct and intelligent movement off the ball. The 17-year-old's strength and heading ability inevitably prompted comparisons with IR Iran legend Ali Daei.
With Morteza Tabrizi leading the line at Esteghlal and Godwin Mensha joining from archrivals Persepolis, Sayyad might not be an automatic starter up front, but he will look to make an impact when given the opportunity in this year's AFC Champions League.
Safawi Rasid (Johor Darul Ta'zim)
One of the rising stars of Southeast Asian football, Safawi Rasid is set to make his AFC Champions League debut, having already shown his class and goalscoring ability in the AFC Cup over the past two years.
The 21-year-old is a dead-ball specialist and has a history of scoring stunning goals from distance, while he also boasts the skill to take on defenders and the creativity to pick out teammates with key passes.
😎 What a strike this was by young @OfficialJohor star Safawi Rasid!— AFC Cup (@AFCCup) November 25, 2018
Does it deserve to win Best AFC Cup 2018 Goal?
🗳 Vote for it and the other nominees here 👉🏻https://t.co/ckXVXS2efxpic.twitter.com/n0e7jOd05B
Another player who enjoyed an excellent 2018 for his country, Safawi helped Malaysia qualify for the AFC U23 Championship quarter-finals and scored in the AFF Cup final before defeat to Vietnam. He will be a welcome addition to the Continent’s biggest club tournament.
Yahya Al Ghassani (Al Wahda)
Yahya Al Ghassani started his career at the youth sides of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, before joining Al Wahda's U21 team where he played under former Romanian star Adrian Mutu, the man who recommended him to then first-team coach Laurentiu Reghecampf.
The 20-year-old has been a revelation since signing for the Abu Dhabi based side in the summer of 2018. The UAE-born Tanzanian striker marked his debut with a goal on the first matchday of the UAE Pro League season.
A few weeks later, Al Ghassani scored on his first start for the Clarets in the League Cup. His impressive maiden campaign earned him a new contract that will keep him at Al Wahda until 2023.
Zhang Yuning (Beijing FC)
After spending the past three and a half years in Europe, primarily in the Netherlands, Zhang Yuning returned home to join Beijing FC in February, and the striker will be desperate to prove himself in his maiden AFC Champions League campaign.
The imposing striker moved to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem as a teenager in 2015 and after starting to realise his early-career potential, has seen injury and lack of opportunities following subsequent moves hamper his development.
But, having just turned 22 at the beginning of the year, there remains plenty of hope that the frontman can develop into the player many tipped him to be from an early age. The AFC Champions League may be the ideal setting for him to do just that.
Jasurbek Yakshiboev (Pakhtakor)
It may have been Odiljon Xamrobekov who got the MVP award at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship, but it was his teammate Jasurbek Yakhshiboev who delivered the goals that fired Uzbekistan to the title in China PR.
And, while club team Pakhtakor do boast more established young talents like Xamrobekov and Dostonbek Khamdamov, Yakshiboev is the youngest of the trio at just 21 and worth keeping an eye on at the 2019 AFC Champions League.
The left-footed attacker often poses danger as he cuts inside from the right flank. Possessing nimble feet and an eye for goal, Yakhshiboev is equally dangerous as a creator and a scorer for Pakhtakor.
Having come through the ranks at the Tashkent side, Yakhshiboev had his breakthrough season in 2018, making his way into the first team and scoring three times in the league. While he remains uncapped at senior level for Uzbekistan, a strong campaign this time around could well change that.
Han Seung-gyu (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)
A creative midfielder who weighs in with his fair share of goals, Han Seung-gyu arrived at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors from Ulsan Hyundai after an excellent 2018 in which he was named the K League’s Young Player of the Year.
The 22-year-old possesses fine close control, composure and an eye for a pass, while his runs into the box are difficult to track. He created more goals than any Ulsan player in the league last year while he was also their second highest scorer.
With Korea Republic international midfielder Lee Jae-sung having departed Jeonju in mid-2018, many will look to Han to become his long-term successor. They are big boots to fill, but if he continues in the same vein of form, the Jeonbuk fans will have a new favourite within their ranks.
After reading about 10 of the hottest prospects on show in the 2019 AFC Champions League, let us know who you think will be the pick of the bunch by casting your vote below!
Photos: Getty Images
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