Vietnam’s midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai has officially been announced as one of the candidates for “Best Footballer in Asia 2018” (BFA 2018), an award considered the Ballon d’Or of Asia, Fox Sports Asia reported on Tuesday.
Chinese-language sports newspaper Titan Sports, in collaboration with Fox Sports Asia, unveiled the shortlist of 24 nominees for the sixth edition of the 2018 BFA prize earlier this week.
The 2018 BFA called the name of Vietnam’s Nguyen Quang Hai, who has played very prominently throughout 2018, which is also a successful year for Vietnam’s football in general.
In January, Hai and his teammates finished second at the AFC U23 Championship in China, before he was recruited to play for the Vietnamese ‘Olympic team,’ an U23 squad with three overage players, at the 2018 Asian Games (Asiad) in Indonesia.
The 21-year-old midfielder played an important role in Vietnam’s advancing into the semifinals with five straight victories and no single goal conceded at the Asiad, arguably the greatest performance of all time.
Vietnam finished fourth at the 2018 Asian Games, which marked a new milestone when the country was no longer seen as underdogs at continental playgrounds.
It came as no surprise that Hai continued to be summoned for the national squad to play at the 2018 AFF Championship that wrapped up with Vietnam lifting the trophy in Hanoi last week.
Vietnam won their second AFF Cup in ten years, while Hai was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
All these feats put Hai in the 24-man nominee list of the “Best Footballer in Asia,” rubbing shoulders with such well-known Asian players as South Korea’s Son Heung-min, Takashi Inui of Japan and Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
|Vietnam's Nguyen Quang Hai (red) leads the ball over a Malaysian player in the return final of the 2018 AFF Championship in Hanoi on December 15. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Son, who ended a fine FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia last summer by scoring the goal that sealed a 2-0 win for South Korea over defending champions Germany, won his third BFA last year.
He will be tough to beat in the award this year, as he won the 2018 Asian Games with South Korea and now plays well for Tottenham Hotpurs in the English Premier League.
Japan’s Takashi Inui, who made plenty of headlines with his delightful strike in his country’s brave defeat against eventual third-placed Belgium at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, is also a heavyweight contender for the title.
In the meantime, Beiranvand was among the standouts at Russia 2018 when Iran came close to getting out of a tough group containing Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
"Best Footballer in Asia" selects its winners in a different manner from the “Asian Footballer of the Year” title awarded by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
While the AFC technical department and match commissioners decide on the winners by their judgment, the “Best Footballer in Asia” applies similar organizing structure and voting rules as France Football’s Ballon d’Or.
The jury is constituted by media representatives of nearly 40 AFC football associations and some Asian football experts of European football media outlets.
The eligibility of the nominees for "Best Footballer in Asia," therefore, is wider than AFC’s “Asian Footballer of the Year,” according to Fox Sports Asia.
“Best Footballer in Asia” was founded by Titan Sports, the only media representative of China voting for Ballon d’Or.
|South Korea’s striker Son Heung-min. Photo: Reuters