26 days to go to the AFC Asian Cup, UAE 2019

AFC’s awards spectacular celebrates sees big wins for China, Japan and Qatar

By Paul Nicholson in Muscat, Oman

November 29 – Defenders don’t generally win matches, they save them. Certainly they rarely get recognised when it comes to giving out awards. Qatar’s Abdelkarim Hassan struck a blow for central defenders worldwide when he beat two of Japan’s Asian Champions League winning stars to pick up the AFC Men’s Player of the Year Award.

China’s Wang Shuang struck a similar blow for her fast-football-emerging nation, picking up the Women’s Player of the Year Award.

The AFC’s annual awards mark both the end of and a celebration of the Asian season. While FIFA’s Best Awards have increasingly become a glorification of the European game and the worship of the same monied few, the AFC’s Awards mix elite player awards with federation recognition and grassroots achievement equally. It is a fundamentally different cultural and inclusive experience in comparison to FIFA’s shiny elitism.

But this was no second class production. The AFC celebration, warmly hosted by the Oman FA in Muscat, had all the glamour, live TV glitz and big name entertainment of the region. All carried off without forgetting that this is all still about football – everybody’s game.

“I am very glad and proud of winning this award… It is a great honour to be the second person from Qatar to win this award. I thank all my colleagues at my club and national team because football is a team game,” said Hassan.

Hassan is a refreshing picture of humbleness off the pitch but he is certainly no slouch on it. On loan in Belgium, he was called back to his club Al Sadd for their Asian Champions League campaign that saw them progress to the semi-finals. Voted man of the match in four of his Asian Champions League appearances, Hassan is a product of the Aspire Academy.

He first appeared for Al Sadd aged 17. “I am still at the start of my career,” he said. “I am still only 25 years old, I still have to do my best.” He will be a key figure in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup preparations.

Wang Shuang, currently playing her club football at PSG in France, was similarly respectful.

“I thank the AFC for this remarkable award,” she said.

“It already made my heart being nominated with the other two amazing players Sam (Kerr) and Saki (Kumagai). I also want to thank my country for supporting me and to allow me to play in my club PSG – constantly helping me and encouraging me. Hopefully I will play well in the World Cup next year.”

Asked by Middle Eastern media what the award could signify for women in the region, Shuang said: “Football stands for equality, no matter of nationality, race or gender. If you are passionate about your sport you should go for it.”

While the elite player awards missed Japanese individual achievement, the country picked a plethora of other awards from men’s and women’s coach of the year to youth players of the year, all marking a stellar season for the federation.

The Asian federations now turn their national team attention to the expanded 24 team 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE, an event guaranteed to make new reputations and break new boundaries. Who knows, perhaps the political elite in Zurich might even take a look from from their Ivory Tower, there is plenty they could learn about what the sport of football stands for in the real world. And perhaps even find an Asian name worthy of entry in their own Best awards? No-one is holding their breath for that kind of inclusivity.

But while making football awards inclusive will forever be a significant challenge for FIFA and its new-look money-trumps-all elitist philanthropy, Asia has taken the intellectual and moral high ground but doing the one thing this is all about – playing football, promoting football and loving every minute of the privilege.

AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa closed off celebrations with the customary congratulations to everyone everywhere – why not, it was that kind of evening.

“We thank our host the Oman Football Association and the Omani government for staging a truly memorable celebration in this wonderful city of Muscat,” he said. Yes it was, and yes it is.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1544392506labto1544392506ofdlr1544392506owedi1544392506sni@n1544392506osloh1544392506cin.l1544392506uap1544392506

Full list of 2018 AFC Annual Award winners:

AFC Player of the Year (Men)
Abdelkarim Hassan (Al Sadd and QAT)

AFC Player of the Year (Women)
Wang Shuang (CHN)

AFC President’s special recognition award

Wild Boars football club – the 12 boys who were trapped in the caves will attend the opening match for Thailand at the Asian Cup on 6th January in Abu Dhabi.

Futoshi Ikeda – coach of Japan’ winning women U20 women’s World Cup

AFC President’s Recognition Award for Grassroots Football

Aspiring – Palestinian Football Association

Developing – Football Association of Singapore

Inspiring – Chinese Football Association

AFC Member Association of the Year

Aspiring: Mongolian Football Federation

Developing: DPR Korea Football Association

Inspiring: Japan Football Association

Diamond of Asia Award

Highest accolade awarded to an individual by the AFC – China’s Zhang Jilong

AFC Futsal Player of the Year (Men)
Ali Asghar Hasanzadeh (IRN)
Winner of the award for the third year in a row

AFC Youth Player of the Year (Women)
Saori Takarada (JPN)

AFC Youth Player of the Year (Men)
Turki Al Ammar (KSA)

AFC Coach of the Year (Women)
Asako Takakura (JPN)
Head coach of women’ team that won AFC women’s Asian Cup in 2018, qualifying for the World Cup in France 2019.

AFC Coach of the Year (Men)
Go Oiwa (JPN)

Coached Kashima Antlers to the 2018 AFC Champions League title.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1544392506labto1544392506ofdlr1544392506owedi1544392506sni@n1544392506osloh1544392506cin.l1544392506uap1544392506