The future: Central Asia teenagers on the verge of stardom

Bishkek: While world football awaits its full-scale return, it’s worth remembering the bright future that beckons many of Asia’s talented young players.

Central Asia is a region with a proud footballing past, and the extended outlook appears equally bright with several talented youngsters emerging in recent years.

Join the as we profile seven youngsters from Asian football’s Central Zone who look poised for long and successful careers in the game.

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Gulzhigit Alykulov (KGZ)
Winger, 19, FC Kairat (Kazakhstan)

Well established in the Kyrgyz Republic national team since making his senior debut in 2019, Alykulov produced a string of eye-catching performances to emerge as his country’s Player of the Year despite not being a part of their history-making run to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup knockout stage.

The dashing dribbler also starred at club-level last season, making 23 league appearances for Belarusian outfit FC Neman Grodno before sealing a dream move to Almaty-based FC Kairat in the winter.

Oston Urunov (UZB)
Midfielder, 19, FC Ufa (Russia)

A midfielder who can also play deeper, Urunov was schooled in the Pakhtakor academy before making his top-flight debut as a 16-year-old for Navbahor, eventually registering more than 50 Super League appearances for both the Namangan side and PFC Lokomotiv.

With four international caps to his name, he earned his big move to Ufa – currently ninth in the Russian Premier League – last month, and had already started against Krasnodar, Zenit and CSKA Moscow before the competition was suspended on Tuesday.

Rustam Soirov (TJK)
Forward, 17, FC Istiklol

Part of the Tajikistan team which stunned the Continent by going all the way to the final of the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship in Malaysia, Soirov followed up his impressive performances at that tournament by scoring a penalty against Argentina at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

With an impressive youth resume behind him, Soirov is now poised to make his mark at the top level, earning a place in the senior squad of dominant Tajik outfit FC Istiklol, and making his AFC Cup debut as a substitute against FC Khujand last Wednesday.

Allahyar Sayyadmanesh (IRN)
Forward, 18, Fenerbahce (Turkey)

The youngest senior goal-scorer in Iranian national team history, the talented versatile Sayyadmanesh was just 17 when he found the net on debut against Syria, an achievement which came just a month after signing a deal with Turkish giants Fenerbahce.

That move saw the youngster feature in friendly matches against FC Bayern and Real Madrid in successive days last July, before going out on loan to Istanbulspor.

Sayyadmanesh showed glimpses of his enormous potential at the AFC U23 Championship in Thailand in January, before returning to Fenerbahce for the second half of the season.

Jasur Jaloliddinov (UZB)
Midfielder, 17, FC Bunyodkor

Considered one of the most exciting prospects in Asian football, Jaloliddinov was first-team regular for FC Bunyodkor last season, making 20 league appearances, primarily in an attacking midfield role.

Those exploits made him Uzbekistan’s 2019 Young Player of the Year, and – having made his senior international debut against Belarus last month – Jaloliddinov has been linked with European clubs and rated as of the Top 60 young talents in world football by England’s The Guardian newspaper.

Beknaz Almazbekov (KGZ)
Forward, 14, Galatasaray (Turkey)

The youngest player on our list, Almazbekov burst into the international spotlight when nobly refusing to score a penalty which had been incorrectly awarded to his Galatasaray side last year, but sportsmanship is only one of his positive traits.

The captain of the youth team of one of the biggest clubs in Turkey, Almazbekov – who turns 15 in June - has also shown his quality on the international stage, scoring against both Lebanon and United Arab Emirates for Kyrgyz Republic’s U-16 side in the Asian Qualifiers last September.

Alongside Beşiktaş junior Avtandil Duishoev, Almazbekov is one of a growing number of Kyrgyz youngsters to learn their trade with top Turkish clubs, providing plenty of youngsters to track in the years to come.

Mukhriddin Khasanov (TJK)
Goalkeeper, 17, FC Khujand

Arguably the standout player of Tajikistan’s aforementioned run to the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship final, Khasanov memorably saved two DPR Korea penalties in the quarter-final shoot-out to catapult his side towards World Cup qualification.

Another Central Asian player to feature in The Guardian’s global Top 60, Khasanov has joined AFC Cup contenders FC Khujand, where he will look to learn from, and possibly challenge, former PFC Lokomotiv custodian Mamur Ikramov.

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