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AFC Champions League 2015: Top five U-23 players who made an impact

With the AFC Champions League entering its final stage, Hamoudi Fayad takes a look back at the tournament to pick out the 5 best young players to have made an impact.

AFC Champions League U23

Majed Hassan: Al-Ahli, UAE | Age: 23 Position: DM

A promising Emirati prospect and the only one left standing, with Al-Ahli the one West Asian team to make it to the final. Having learnt from the likes of Luis Jimenez and Hugo Viana in central midfield over the years, Hassan has developed into a reliable prospect in such a tough position at a young age. Admittedly, he has lapses in concentration (understandably, as the youth system in the U.A.E limits’ players to generic roles), but tactician Cosmin Olaroiu has overseen his development over the last couple of years and how he commands his role from defence.

He is capable of playing passes of different lengths and variations, but he often needs to work on his body positioning when receiving the ball. He is calm under pressure but if he receives it with a poor body position, he has to return the ball back to the passer.


Nevertheless, Majed Hassan is playing in arguably the most talent-heavy position in the UAE. Destroyer Khamis Esmail, metronome Amer Abdulrahman (trial at Blackburn Rovers in 2012), energetic Habib Fardan, calm Amir Mubarak and red-hot Tariq Ahmed all excel in the defensive / central midfield positions in the UAE. Majed Hassan has surpassed most of those players in terms of talent, form, achievement and consistency.

Rodrigo Lima has scored in every single game since his arrival in Asia, but Majed Hassan’s security in the pivot is invaluable to the Red Knights – who go on to face Guangzhou in the final. Majed Hassan’s next opponent: Ricardo Goulart, the AFC CL top scorer and former Cruzeiro attacking midfielder.

Khaled Kaabi: Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia | Age: 23 Position: CM

One was wondering who would come after Taisir Al-Jassim in terms of providing Saudi Arabia’s Gerrard/Lampard role. Suspensions and injuries saw Kaabi’s inclusion in the Saudi Super Cup in London, and since then he has never looked back. Lung-busting performances and a heavy influence on attacking play saw him included in the AFC CL squad for the latter stages.

Strong performances against Qatari giants Lekhwiya – where he showed his flair, movement and link up play consistently – saw him become a starter in the team. For a player who, in hindsight, popped out of the blue, Al-Hilal do have a star on their hands.

Alireza Beiranvand: Naft Tehran, Iran | Age: 23 Position: GK

If there is anything you need to know about debutants Naft Tehran’s tall goalkeeper, it’s his throws. Ahdaaf, a Middle Eastern football website in English, caught a video of one of his throws live in Dubai during a match against Al-Ahli!

Beiranvand is one of the biggest goalkeeping prospects on the continent in quite a long time. He looks to oust legendary goalkeepers Mohammad Al-Deayea, Amer Shafi and Mohsin Mosabeh as goalkeeping icons in the Middle East. Commanding in goal, Beiranvand is great at shot stopping and is decent at distributing the ball if you give him the right to. However, he has more potential to develop on that aspect.

Unfortunately, he conceded a long shot to Rodrigo Lima (the latter is the real deal) in the AFC CL and in the Iranian League too he has been a little shaky as his team Naft Tehran – title challengers in the last 2 years – battle to avoid relegation. He’s also had some problems with his manager and the club’s hierarchy which saw him left out of the squad a few times. Despite that, his future looks bright at 23.

Takashi Usami: Gamba Osaka, Japan | Age: 23 Position: SS/LW

Takashi Usami is a dynamic striker, more so a second striker if you look at his role from a tactical point of view. He is also more inclined to the left, where he cuts inside to cross with his right foot. That’s not his only strength, though.

He is quite cheeky on the ball, and is really a vertical / diagonal player. He’s always thinking of moving forward and taking players on, the type of urgent play you need often in football depending on the situation. At such a young age, his finishing is uncompromising. 24 goals in 39 games is certainly no mean feat for a 23 year old, especially as his game isn’t absolutely reliant on finishing. His team was on the end of a narrow aggregate loss to finalists Guangzhou.

Lee Jae-Sung: Jeonbuk, South Korea | Age: 23 Position: CM/CAM

This player is simply; intelligent. A good eye for a pass, and able to read the game excellently, Lee Jae-Sung was definitely part of Jeonbuk’s run to the 2015 Asian Champions League quarterfinals. It is enough that Asian football website Sandal4Goalposts dubbed the tie between Gamba and Jeonbuk “Lee Jae-sung vs Takashi Usami: two of the hottest, two of the most direct”

Lee knows what he wants on the pitch, and has the sufficient talent to achieve so – thinking in advance. He is mature enough to advance with the ball and decide for himself. At times, he can even be used as the last midfielder on the pitch. A calming presence on the ball without a doubt, but there is no reason to assume that he is weak due to his small frame.

Even though he is quite small as an attacking midfielder, he has scored 3-4 headers (including his debut goal for the national team). Lee is also no stranger to getting stuck in.

Final Word

Retrospectively, Majed Hassan has been the best youngster in the Asian Champions League. Before the summer break (yes, the AFC CL has a summer break similar to the league breaks seen in Europe) Majed Hassan came off crying in a match that saw his (harsh) sending off against Al-Ahli Jeddah. Nevertheless, he has bounced back in magnificent fashion and is on the verge of creating history with his team.

Written by Hamoudi Fayad.

Hamoudi Fayad

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