Kuala Lumpur: It was a footballing year like no other, but despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Asia’s top players still delivered exceptional performances worthy of wider recognition.
For that reason, the-AFC.com invites you to cast your vote in Asia’s Choice – Fan Awards: Best AFC International Player in 2020, which is open to men’s players registered to clubs outside the Asian continent.
In line with the previous Asia’s Choice – Fan Awards categories, 60 percent of the votes are to be directly supplied by fans, and the winners to be revealed on January 24.
Delivering league and cup silverware, Golden Boot titles or simply performing to a high level on a consistent basis, several Asian stars shone bright throughout the 2020 calendar year.
But who was the standout individual in the eyes of the continent’s fans? Please take your time to study the shortlist, and don’t forget to cast your vote.
Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur/KOR)
A three-time AFC International Player of the Year, Son enjoyed a superb 2020, earning a stack of accolades including Tottenham’s Player of the Season, KFA Player of the Year and the FIFA Puskás Award for the most beautiful goal in world football.
A total 22 goals for Tottenham in the calendar year only goes part of the way to describing his brilliance, with this ability to create for his teammates – most notably Harry Kane – every bit as impressive.
Mehdi Taremi (Rio Ave, FC Porto/IRN)
Few Asian players outside the continent experienced such a transformative year as Taremi, who finished equal top scorer in the Portuguese top-flight, subsequently earning a move to one of the country’s biggest clubs.
Thirteen of his 21 goals for Rio Ave came in 2020, with a further six coming in the colours of FC Porto, as well as one in a rare international outing for Team Melli, as Taremi confirmed his status as one of Asia’s top strikers.
Sardar Azmoun (FC Zenit/IRN)
A total 21 goals in all competitions, three pieces of silverware and equal billing with teammate Artem Dzyuba as the Russian Premier League’s top scorer made 2020 a year to remember for Sardar Azmoun,
He scored multiple goals in a match on no less than six occasions, playing a starring role as Zenit navigated a series of challenges to win the League, Cup and Super Cup.
Ali Adnan (Vancouver Whitecaps/IRQ)
The only shortlisted player based outside of Europe, Iraq’s Ali Adnan delivered a terrific 2020 campaign for Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, for whom he won the club’s Player of the Season and Goal of the Season Awards.
The attacking left-back led the club in several statistical categories, both attacking and defensive, and even found time to score the winning goal while captaining Iraq in a friendly against Uzbekistan in November.
Ali Gholizadeh (RSC Charleroi/IRN)
One of a strong Asian contingent in the Belgian top-flight, and particularly at Charleroi, Gholizadeh prospered throughout 2020, delivering a string of excellent performances for the ambitious club.
A regular provider of goals and assists from his wide attacking midfielder role, Gholizadeh has shone in both domestic and continental action to establish himself as a key player.
Kaveh Rezaei (RSC Charleroi/IRN)
From scoring a league hat-trick in his third outing of the calendar year to a run of six goals in as many matches in August and September, 2020 was an impressive year for the Iranian international.
His goals helped Charleroi qualify for European football and, for a time, powered them to the top of the Belgian First Division A table, as Rezaei added his name to the impressive array of Team Melli forwards in Europe.
Takheiro Tomiyasu (Bologna FC 1909/JPN)
Versatile, consistent and seemingly destined to become one of the best Asian defenders of his generation, Takheiro Tomiyasu impressed many with his terrific performances for Italian Serie A outfit Bologna.
Used in a variety of defensive roles, Tomiyasu – who turned 21 just weeks before the beginning of 2020 – started more than 30 matches in all competitions, earning plaudits in Italy and beyond.
Lee Kang-in (Valencia CF/KOR)
Crowned Asia’s Young Player of the Year in 2019, Lee continued his progression with 21 competitive appearances for six-time Spanish champions Valencia.
The youngster’s ability to produce a killer pass was highlighted against Levante in September, when he became the youngest player in the 21st century to produce two assists in a La Liga match, doing so at 19 years and 27 days old.
Takefusa Kubo (RCD Mallorca, Villarreal CF/JPN)
Another promising Asian youngster plying his trade in Spain is Takefusa Kubo, who spent time on loan at both Mallorca and Villareal from parent club Real Madrid.
Utilised primarily in a right-wing role, Kubo was featured in La Liga’s young players’ Team of the Season for 2019-20 and went on to score his UEFA Europa League goal for Villareal in October.
Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart, JPN)
He began the year on loan in the second tier of German football and ended it as a permanent player and first team regular for a team sitting comfortably mid-table in the Bundesliga.
Along the way, Endo was almost ever-present, making 29 league appearances across the calendar year and playing 90 minutes on every single occasion.
Nikita Rukavytsya (Maccabi Haifa FC/AUS)
If 2020 was a year of unprecedented difficulty for much of the football world, it also produced it’s fair share of success stories, with the second coming of veteran Australian forward Rukavytsya among them.
At the age of 33, and 12 years after his first European move, he scored an exceptional 28 goals in the calendar year, including 12 in a 10-match streak which featured strikes against four successive UEFA Europa League opponents.
Hwang Hee-chan (RB Salzburg, RB Leipzig/KOR)
While not as statistically impressive as his 2019 calendar year, 2020 still saw Hwang become Austrian champion for a fourth successive season and seal a move to UEFA Champions League semi-finalists RB Leipzig.
He scored and assisted on debut for his new club, and managed time to find the back of the net in a rare international outing for Korea Republic in November, but the final weeks of his year were marred by falling ill to COVID-19.
Takumi Minamino (Liverpool/JPN)
Signed by Liverpool at the turn of the year, Minamino became only the third Japanese player to claim a Premier League winners’ medal as the Merseyside club ended a 30-year title drought.
His role in that triumph was only a cameo, but he has found the net in all competitions in the new season, including Liverpool’s only goal in the Community Shield against Arsenal.
Ryota Morioka (RSC Charleroi/JPN)
Perhaps one of Asia’s quiet European achievers, Morioka has enjoyed a superb 2020 in Belgium, guiding Charleroi to UEFA Europa League qualification in the first half of the year and helping them orchestrate a potential title challenge in the second.
The central midfielder has delivered several Player of the Match performances, is among the top suppliers of assists in the league and may well be in contention for individual honours at season’s end.
Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt/JPN)
A UEFA Europa League hat-trick against Salzburg, a crucial DFB Pokal strike against Werder Bremen and a string of impressive Bundesliga performances made 2020 a successful year for Japan’s Daichi Kamada.
The midfielder finished with 10 goals in all competitions in the 2019-20 season – the third highest tally at Eintracht Frankfurt – and is currently seventh on the Bundesliga assists chart in 2020-21.
*Poll ends at 14:00 (UTC+8) on January 23. Fans can vote for their favourite player once a day. Results for all categories will be announced on January 24.