With the end of 2014 fast approaching, our Middle East football expert John Duerden picks his 10 best Middle East players of the past 12 months. But do you agree with his selections?
10. ALIREZA HAGHIGHI (Penafiel and Iran)
It looked as if Rahman Ahmadi would be the No1 goalkeeper for Iran at the World Cup as he did an awful lot to get the team to Brazil in the first place. Yet, Haghighi came in and was excellent. The 26-year-old was one of the best ‘keepers in the tournament and shone against both Nigeria and Argentina. Is set to be Team Melli’s shot-stopper for years to come.
9. BOUALEM KHOUKHI (Al Arabi and Qatar)
He started 2014 by scoring six goals in the West Asian Football Federation Championships in January that propelled Qatar to the title. The Algerian-born goalgetter didn’t score as many in the Gulf Cup in November. Then he found the net just once but what a one it was: the winning goal in the final against Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. Not the most talented striker in the continent but if he can continue scoring such important goals then he is going to be a real star.
8. KHALFAN IBRAHIM (Al Sadd and Qatar)
Made the shortlist for AFC Player of the Year only to miss out to Saudi Arabia’s Nasser Al Shamrani. The winger, winner of the coveted award in 2006, has impressed for Al Sadd and helped Qatar become the pre-eminent side of the Middle East. At 26 years of age, the exciting star is about to enter his peak. One of the most exciting talents in Asia, Khalfan has perhaps has not yet fulfilled his full potential but there is still time.
7. MOHAMED EL NENY (Basel and Egypt)
The midfielder has had quite a year. He helped FC Basel to another domestic title in May. More was to come, however, as he was an ever-present in the group stage of this season’s UEFA Champions League as the Swiss team finished second behind Real Madrid and above Liverpool.
6. ASHRAF NU’MAN (Al Faisaly and Palestine)
Whatever happens in the rest of his career, the striker will struggle to outdo what happened in May 2014. Against the Philippines in the AFC Challenge Cup final, he scored the only goal of the game. That not only gave Palestine a first continental title but booked their spot in the 2015 Asian Cup. It was one of the stories of the year.
5. MEHRDAD POOLADI (Al Shahania and Iran)
The left-back enjoyed a great World Cup and was one of the more accomplished defenders in Brazil. He helped to keep Lionel Messi quiet for 92 minutes, something that many bigger names have failed to do. A player who was little known before June, seemed to belong on the big stage. Messi may have eventually broke through Iran’s stubborn resistance, but Mehrdad had already proved himself.
4. ISLAM SLIMANI (Sporting Lisbon and Algeria)
The powerful striker had an excellent World Cup. He found the target against South Korea and Russia to help secure Algeria their first ever spot in the knockout stages and had a header disallowed against the Germans. Already in Europe at Sporting Lisbon, there has been serious interest from clubs in the English Premier League and the Bundesliga but with the Portuguese giants not wanting to sell and a release clause in his contract of around $35 million, he has remained in Lisbon. That situation could change before too long.
3. NASSER AL SHAMRANI (Al Hilal and Saudi Arabia)
It has been a memorable year for the Saudi Arabian striker. Ten goals in the Asian Champions League propelled Al Hilal to the final but in the two-legged showpiece against Western Sydney Wanderers, he drew a blank. That form, and his goals for his national team, helped ‘The Earthquake’ pick up the AFC Player of the Year accolade. A few hours later, he was banned by the same organisation for spitting at Sydney star as the Wanderers took the trophy. An up and down year then, but mostly up.
2. MEHDI BENATIA (Bayern Munich and Morocco)
The centre-back was the subject of considerable interest in the summer from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid but in the end, the Moroccan joined Bayern Munich. A red card against City in the Champions League apart, the French-born defender has settled into Bavarian life well. Life under Guardiola can be challenging for players but Benatia seems equal to the task and is improving all the time.
1. YACINE BRAHIMI (Porto and Algeria)
What a year this man has had. Fast, creative, powerful and talented – there is nothing not to like. He was simply excellent in the World Cup, helping Algeria to the second round, a game in which the North Africans gave eventual champions Germany a tougher test than anyone else in Brazil. If that wasn’t enough, he has been starring for Porto and scored a hat-trick in a UEFA Champions League against BATE Borisov. At 24, the attacking midfielder is only going to get better.
By Yahoo News
The Iran Project is not responsible for the content of quoted articles.