Kuala Lumpur: With international football not set to return until later in the year, the-AFC.com continues its look back at some of Asia's greatest performers at the FIFA World Cup and asks you, the fans, to vote for the Best XI.
Last week we presented the candidates for the best goalkeeper, and now it's time to turn our attention to defenders. With candidates from Korea Republic, Japan and Saudi Arabia, here are the eight players in contention for the places in the backline.
Review the nominees and then choose your favourite for this all-star XI in the poll below.
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Hong Myung-bo – Korea Republic (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002)
- 16 appearances, 4 clean sheets (Both #1 among Asian defenders at the FIFA World Cup)
- 41 interceptions (#1 among Asian defenders at the FIFA World Cup)
- Two goals (#1 among Asian defenders at the FIFA World Cup)
Hong Myung-bo was one of the youngest players in the Korea Republic squad when he made his FIFA World Cup debut as a 21-year-old at Italia 90, but the Taeguk Warriors departed following successive defeats to Belgium, Spain and Uruguay.
Four years later in the United States, the Seoul native was on the scoresheet as Korea came from two down to draw with Spain and again in a 3-2 loss to Germany as the East Asians departed having picked up a commendable two points; however, they exited with just a point from a draw with Belgium at France 98.
As captain on home soil in 2002, Hong helped Korea achieve Asia's best-ever performance at the World Cup as they became the first Asian team to reach the semi-finals, defeating Portugal, Italy and Spain along the way, with the defender scoring the decisive penalty against the Spaniards in the quarter-finals.
Lee Young-pyo – Korea Republic (2002, 2006, 2010)
- 12 appearances
- 72 duels won (#1 among Asian defenders at the FIFA World Cup)
- Never received a card at the FIFA World Cup – the only Asian defender with 10+ apps to avoid a booking.
While 2002 was the climax of Hong's World Cup career, it wad the curtain-raiser for Lee Young-pyo as his performances under Guus Hiddink helped launch a hugely successful career in Europe.
Playing at left wing-back, it was Lee's assists that teed up Park Ji-sung and Ahn Jung-hwan to claim famous victories against Portugal and Italy. Four years later, he played all three games, but the Koreans were unlucky to depart Germany having picked up four points in the group stage.
As much an attacking threat as he was solid at the back, Lee starred again at South Africa 2010, helping Korea Republic reach the knockout rounds for the second time as four points against Greece and Nigeria, this time, proved enough before defeat to Uruguay.
Yuto Nagatomo – Japan (2010, 2014, 2018)
- 11 appearances
- 82.5% passing accuracy
- 9 chances created, 2 assists
One of the finest full-backs to come out of Asia, Yuto Nagatomo is another defender whose contribution to his team's attack has proved invaluable over the years, while in three World Cups he has twice reached the knockout rounds.
Fine wins over Cameroon and Denmark were the highlights of Nagatomo's debut in 2010, although the then Internazionale left-back suffered an early exit after picking up just a point at Brazil 2014.
At times Japan played some scintillating football in 2018, with Nagatomo a constant threat down the left and picking up an assist in a crucial draw against Senegal. The dream died after a last 16 loss to Belgium but, at 33, there is still time for him to play a part at Qatar 2022.
Abdullah Zubromawi – Saudi Arabia (1994, 1998, 2002)
- 9 appearances
- 26 tackles won (#2 among Asian defenders at the FIFA World Cup)
- 83.8% passing accuracy, 46 duels won
Abdullah Zubromawi was just 21 when he came off the bench after 30 minutes at USA 94 to make his World Cup debut; it couldn't have gone any better as Saudi Arabia ran out 2-1 winners over Morocco for their maiden win in the competition.
Things got better with Zubromawi starting the next game as the Saudis stunned Belgium 1-0 and kept what remains their only clean sheet at the World Cup, while also becoming just the second Asian team to ever progress to the knockout rounds.
The former Al Ahli and Al Hilal defender started every game in 1998 and 2002, although the Green Falcons were unable to replicate the success they enjoyed at USA 94, picking up just a solitary point from the two editions.
Kim Tae-young – Korea Republic (1998, 2002)
- 10 appearances
- 94.7% tackles won (#1 among Asian defenders at the FIFA World Cup)
- 53 duels won, 25 interceptions
While Kim Tae-young debuted at France 98 in what was a largely disappointing campaign for the Koreans, it was in 2002 when he really made his mark as he lined up alongside Hong Myung-bo in the East Asians' excellent defence.
Korea Republic advanced from the group stage after conceding just one goal in three games, shutting out Poland and a star-studded Portugal side, before doing likewise to Spain in the quarter-finals.
The semi-final defeat to Germany saw Kim and his country's dream of a place in the final end but, part of a backline that conceded just three goals in six games prior to the third place play-off loss to Turkey, the defender was a star performer as the Taeguk Warriors delighted a nation.
Song Chong-gug – Korea Republic (2002, 2006)
- 8 appearances
- 81.9% passing accuracy
- 66 duels and 29 tackles won
Given their performance at 2002, it's unsurprising that a number of candidates come from Guus Hiddink's Korea Republic side, and Song Chong-gug is another who excelled under the Dutchman before earning a transfer to Europe.
A standout display against Luis Figo in 2002 was arguably the highlight for Song, who played every minute of every game and finished the campaign by scoring a long-range consolation against Turkey in the third place play-off.
In 2006, Song played in the opening-day win over Togo but missed his country's subsequent matches, meaning his individual record at the World Cup reads: played 8, won 4, drawn 2, lost 2.
Yuji Nakazawa – Japan (2006, 2010)
- 7 appearances
- 81% passing accuracy
- 42 duels won, 3 clean sheets
Having missed out on the 2002 edition on home soil, Yuji Nakazawa first featured in Japan's disappointing 2006 campaign, although leading his side out as captain in their final group stage game against Brazil would prove a highlight.
There was a marked improvement in 2010, with Nakazawa again in the heart of defence but this time playing his part in wins over Cameroon and Denmark as the Samurai Blue returned to the knockout rounds.
The Yokohama F. Marinos legend was part of a backline that kept another clean sheet in the last 16, but the tournament in South Africa ended in bitter disappointment as the Japanese exited on penalties against Paraguay.
Yuichi Komano – Japan (2006, 2010)
- 5 appearances
- 29 duels won
- 14 crosses from open play, 13 clearances
After making one appearance in 2006, Yuichi Komano was an ever-present in 2010 and, although it would end it heartbreak for the then Jubilo Iwata full-back, he was a key player in what was overall a successful campaign.
Another full-back who was a threat going forward, Komano was deployed on both the right and left side in South Africa as the Samurai Blue picked up two wins and two clean sheets from their four games.
Their second shutout came in what ultimately wound up their most disappointing performance going forward and, after going goalless against Paraguay, it was Komano's miss in the penalty shootout that proved costly.
Now that you've read up on our eight defenders, vote for your favourite in the poll and secure them a place in Asia's Best XI at the FIFA World Cup. Poll ends at 1600 (UTC 8) on June 23.
The Best XI chosen by fans and the Best XI based on the statistics will be announced in early July.
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