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AFC Cup All-time XI: Central Midfielders

Kuala Lumpur: The search for the ultimate AFC Cup dream team continues, with 12 magnificent midfielders to choose from.

Who would you select in an all-time AFC Cup XI? To celebrate the return of the competition in 2021, is asking the football fans of Asia exactly that.

More than 100,000 football fans from throughout the continent have already selected a goalkeeper and three defenders in our 3-4-3 formation, but who will be tasked with pulling the strings in the centre of the park?

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We’ve narrowed the field to a dozen candidates, supplying a combination of versatility, flair and, to a man, outstanding individual quality, with two places in the team up for grabs.

With 10 winners’ medals, over 100 AFC Cup goals and countless assists between them, the competition will be as fierce as ever, so cast your eye over our list of nominees and don’t forget to register your vote.

Next week: Wide midfielders

Mahmood Abdulrahman – Bahrain
Clubs: Muharraq Club, Manama Club
AFC Cup goals: 12
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2008), Runner-up (2006) MVP (2008)

Also known as Ringo, Mahmood Abdulrahman announced himself as a continental star during the remarkable two-legged final of 2008, scoring twice in each leg as Muharraq beat Lebanon’s Safa SC 10-5 on aggregate, with Brazilian striker Rico scoring the Bahraini club’s other six goals in a two-man show which is almost certainly never to be repeated on such a grand stage.

But Abdulrahman was much more than the fab four he scored in the 2008 decider. He shone for much of the mid-2000s, also scoring in the losing 2006 final, and appeared in the AFC Cup as recently as 2018, this time with fellow Bahraini outfit Manama.

Safiq Rahim – Malaysia 2010-2018
Clubs: Selangor, Johor Darul Ta’zim
AFC Cup goals: 17
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2015), MVP (2015)

After beginning his career in the competition at Selangor in 2010, Malaysia’s Safiq Rahim tasted the ultimate in AFC Cup success when he earned tournament MVP honours in Johor Darul Ta’zim’s breakthrough title in 2015.

He also lit up the tournament in the following season, scoring six goals in the first three games of JDT’s title defence, and went on to win a swag of team and individual honours in a glittering career at the club.

Rogerinho – Brazil 2009-2015
Club: Kuwait SC
AFC Cup goals: 26
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2009, 2012, 2013) AFC Foreign Player of the Year (2012)

A mid-season signing and a second-half substitute when Kuwait SC won the 2009 title, Rogerinho became a regular and crucial ingredient as the club stamped their authority over the competition for much of the next half-decade.

More than capable as an attacking midfielder or an out-and-out forward, he scored in the 2012 and 2013 finals, earning Player of the Match honours in the latter, and building a record which stands as one of the best by any player in the competition’s 17-year history.

Firas Al Khatib – Syria 2009-2012
Clubs: Al Arabi (KUW), Qadsia SC
AFC Cup goals: 13
Honours: AFC Cup runner-up (2010)

Another player who could easily have been included in the strikers category, the legendary Firas Al Khatib’s ability to play in multiple positions means he sits comfortably among our contenders in a creative midfield role.

The Syrian superstar suffered a penalty shootout defeat to Al Ittihad in the 2010 AFC Cup final, but scored eight goals in the group stage alone the following season, and could well have finished as the competition’s top scorer that year had Qadsia not been eliminated in a classic Round of 16 clash against Kuwait SC.

Hariss Harun – Singapore
Clubs: Johor Darul Ta’zim, Home United
AFC Cup goals: 1
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2015)

With the abundance of attacking talent from Asia and beyond among our nominees, you might be wondering about who’ll be around to provide some much-needed balance in midfield. In that case, Hariss Harun may well be the man for you.

The Singaporean played in a variety of roles, but he made central midfield his home, helping Johor Darul Ta’zim to the 2015 title and Home United to the knockout stage two years later, always performing with distinction on the continental stage.

Jehad Al Hussein – Syria 2009-2011
Clubs: Kuwait SC, Qadsia SC
AFC Cup goals: 11
Honours: AFC Cup runner-up (2010), Top scorer (2009)

His AFC Champions League career spanned more than a decade, but it was Jehad Al Hussein’s three years in the AFC Cup which delivered a string of memorable performances; which somehow didn’t lead to the Syrian attacking midfielder lifting the trophy.

He was unstoppable in the early stages of the 2009 tournament for Kuwait SC – scoring eight goals in a run of four matches, an amount no one could beat for the rest of the tournament – before joining Qadsia mid-season. Kuwait went on to win the title, while Al Hussein helped Qadsia to the 2010 decider, only to lose on penalties in front of 58,000 fans in Kuwait City.

Hasan Abdel-Fattah – Jordan 2006-2019
Clubs: Al Wehdat, Al Karamah, Kuwait SC
AFC Cup goals: 23

Hasan Abdel-Fattah scored twice on his AFC Cup debut, against Bangladesh’s Mohammedan SC back in 2007, and – in a testament to the 88-cap Jordanian international’s longevity - he was still scoring in the competition 12 years later.

Playing primarily for Al Wehdat, but enjoying spells at clubs throughout the West Asian region, he participated in nine AFC Cup tournaments in 14 seasons, making five trips to the knockout stage, but what would have been a well-deserved continental title eluded him.

Zaher Al Midani – Syria 2009-2018
Clubs: Al Maged, Al Shorta (SYR), Air Force Club
AFC Cup goals: 2
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2016, 2017, 2018)

After experiencing continental football with a pair of clubs in his native Syria, Zaher Al Medani’s spell with Iraq’s Air Force Club produced AFC Cup glory in an unprecedented three seasons in a row.

Al Midani was the engine room behind the most successful team in the competition’s recent history. A near ever-present ever since joining Air Force ahead of the 2016 knockout stage, he scored in the 2016 semi-final and tasted defeat only once in 23 AFC Cup matches in the club’s colours.

Stephan Schröck - Philippines 2016-2020
Club: Ceres-Negros
AFC Cup goals: 1

Another versatile midfielder who lit up the tournament’s ASEAN zone in the mid-to-late 2010s, German-born Schröck joined Ceres-Negros, then known as Ceres La Salle, in 2016 and quickly became a standout.

With Schröck on board and often providing the creative direction, the club went to the knockout stage in four consecutive seasons, and the Azkals star picked up at least one Player of the Match award in three of those campaigns.

Odai Al Saify – Jordan 2007-2020
Clubs: Shabab Al Ordon, Qadsia SC
AFC Cup goals: 7
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2007), Top scorer (2007)

Then 21, Odai Al Saify played a significant role in Shabab Al Ordon’s first and only AFC Cup title in 2007, netting crucial goals against Muscat Club and Nejmeh earlier in the competition before scoring the winner, and earning Player of the Match honours in the first leg of the final against Al Faisaly.

His heroics made him the equal top scorer in 2007, and he appeared again in the following edition before his footballing travels kept him away from the AFC Cup for 12 years until his return for Kuwait’s Qadsia in 2020.

Therdsak Chaiman – Thailand 2007-2012
Clubs: Warriors FC, Chonburi FC
AFC Cup goals: 10

Already a former AFC Champions League MVP when he made his AFC Cup debut for Warriors FC as a 33-year-old in 2007, the gifted Thai playmaker started every match as the Singaporean side reached the knockout stage in back-to-back seasons.

After five league titles in Singapore, a move to Chonburi took Therdsak back to his homeland and, at 39, he remained a key ingredient in the side which made it all the way to the semi-final in 2012, equalling the best ever run in the tournament by a Thai club.

Nguyen Quang Hai – Vietnam
Club: Hanoi FC
AFC Cup goals: 2

He may be young enough to play in the competition for another decade, but Nguyen Quang Hai has already left a significant mark on the AFC Cup, particularly in his exceptional 2019 campaign.

The then 22-year-old was simply devastating throughout the tournament, setting up a hatful of goals in the group stage and scoring two screamers in the Inter-zone play-off semi-final against Altyn Asyr, with only an away goals defat to 4.25 SC preventing Hanoi from becoming the first Vietnamese club to reach the final. Quang Hai is scheduled to return to the AFC Cup in 2021.

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