While no Asian side has ever won the World Cup, there is still a bunch of talent on the giant continent. Let’s look at some of the most talented Asian players.
Tottenham winger Son Heung-min is a seven-time winner (five consecutive) of the Best Footballer in Asia award. His 11th-place finish in the 2022 Ballon d'Or is the highest ranking recorded by an Asian player ever. He also remains the most expensive Asian player ever after signing for Spurs from Bayer Leverkusen in 2016.
The pacy footballer, dubbed “Sonaldo” by former coach Jose Mourinho, has 136 club goals and 76 assists in 339 Premier League appearances for Tottenham. Heung-min always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Since the start of the 2020/21 season, he's been one of two players in Europe's top five leagues with a conversation rate of 25% and above out of 100+ non-penalty shots — the only one better is Erling Haaland with 25.8%.
With 104 caps for South Korea, he’s also played in both World Cup 2014 and 2018, notching 35 goals in all international competitions.
Regarded as the best South Korean and Asian footballers of all time, Cha Bum-Kun enjoyed an immense career as Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen striker where he scored more than 50 goals each. One of the first Asians to play in Europe, his 17 Bundesliga goals in the 1986-86 season still leads the competition among Asian players in the German league. He also still stands as the most capped player, with 136 appearances for the South Korea side.
Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata is widely considered the most talented Japanese footballer ever. His seven seasons in Italy led him to a Serie A title with Roma. He also’s earned 77 caps with the national side, playing in 1998, 2002, and 2006 World Cups participating in 3 Confederations Cups in between.
A versatile attacking midfielder and a creative engine, Japanese footballer Shinji Kagawa has played important roles at both Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United. The former Asian Football Confederation International Player is a 2-time Bundesliga Champion and German Cup Winner. He’s also won the Premiership and an English Super Cup with Manchester United. He’s on the verge of 100 caps for his national side.
The first Asian player to score in 3 World Cups and win the Champions League, Park Ji-sung has enjoyed a fantastic career as one of the best players to emerge from the East. An impressive seven-year career with Manchester United and over 200 games yielded four Premier League titles, three Football League Cups, and four Community Shields.
He played in 3 World Cups, helping his side get to the semifinals in 2002 while captaining the squad in 2010. He also snagged a pair of Eredivisie titles in his earlier years, exploiting his endless energy and sharpening up his defensive skills before gaining the interest of Sir Alex Ferguson. Park Ji-Sung won four Premier League titles at United, topped off with a Champions League title during the 2007/08 season.
Said the legendary Wayne Rooney: “If you mentioned Ronaldo to a 12-year-old, they would immediately say “Yeah, he was a brilliant player for Man United,” but if you said ‘Park Ji-Sung' they may not know who he was. All of us who played with Park know he was almost as important to our success.”
The attacking midfielder Tim Cahill is Australia’s all-time leading scorer with 50 goals. With 107 appearances over 3 World Cups, he’s also the second most capped player on the national team. Renown for his heading ability, the Aussie became a staple for Millwall and eventually Everton wherein 2006, he was one of the 50 players considered for the Ballon d'Or.
With surefire pace, creativity, and strength, Keisuke Honda is one the best Japanese footballers to date. He’s won the Russian Premier League, Cup, and Super Cup, and a Supercoppa Italiana at AC Milan. Honda also starred on the Japanese side that won the AFC Asian Cup in 2011 where he was named MVP of the tournament. With nearly 100 caps, he’s appeared in 3 World Cups before retiring from the international side after Russia 2018.
Sami Al Jaber
Regarded as the best Saudi Arabian striker of all-time, Sami Al Jaber spent two decades with his club Al-Hilal where he won six league titles, 2 Asian Champions League titles, and six domestic Saudi Premier League cups. With 46 national goals and four World Cups, he’s the highest-scoring Saudi ever and the second most capped, having played in over 150 international fixtures.
The Iranian forward scored a remarkable 109 goals in his 149 caps with the national side. Playing with club side Bayern Munich in a short stint, he still became the first Asian player to bet part of a UEFA Champions League match.
The former Swansea player of the year in 2015, midfielder Ki Sung-yeung is known for his technical skills, his sharp passing, and mastery of set pieces. The South Korean playmaker has earned 106 caps with the national side and captained the team in the 2018 World Cup.
The Japanese midfielder and forward is perhaps most well known for his important role in Leicester City’s incredible Premiership title run in 2016. He won the Asian International Player of the Year for his standout performances during the 2015-16 season. With 116 caps for Japan, he’s also the team’s leading scorer with 50 goals.