By Paul Nicholson in Hong Kong
December 2 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) crowned their top players and highest performing member associations at a glittering Hong Kong awards ceremony last night that fused modern and traditional Hong Kong with a celebration of the best of Asian football.
As the star performers and the AFC’s leaders took the stage in Hong Kong, men’s player of the year Akram Hassan Afif – unable to pick up his award in person as he was on national team duty – emphasised his celebrity with two goals in Qatar’s 4-2 Gulf Cup win over the UAE. It was a fitting underlining of the Qatari starlet’s precocious talent and a fitting reminder that recognition off the pitch is driven by what happens on it.
The AFC Awards year-on-year are reflecting a growing depth of talent and experience within Asian football – perhaps no better example being Women’s Player of the Year, Saki Kumagai.
A star player in the Olympique Lyonnais triple winning team and a key member of her national side, in Kumagai, Japan and Asia have a proven winner who keeps winning. The 29 year old midfielder has played 110 times for Japan and for the past six seasons has been a key member of OL’s all-conquering club side. For Japan she was a member of the World Cup winning team in 2011 and the World Cup team that finished runners-up in 2015, as well as being a key player in the country’s 2019 campaign that took a young and developing team to the round of 16.
Kumagai has had an award-laden career already, but you get the feeling it isn’t finished when she says: “I have to thank my national and club teammates and supporters who help me grow every day.”
If Kumagai is at one end of the experience curve, it is the potential of Afif that is really showcasing a new generation of Asian talent and a burning desire to compete on the world stage.
Afif was nominated by his federation ahead of star forward Al-Moez Ali who broke scoring records at the Asian Cup in January in the UAE with a 9-goal tally. But it was Afif’s record of 10 assists in a single tournament that powered the attacking play. The Aspire graduate youngster was directly involved in 11 of Qatar’s 19 goals the 2019 tournament and followed it up with another series of outstanding performances in the Asian Champions League for his club Al Saad.
Club coach and Spanish legend and 2010 World Cup winner Xavi was on hand to collect the award for him, saying: “In the Asian Cup and the Champions League, he was the difference-maker so I think it is well deserved. I am very proud to be his coach.”
In other awards Japan’s Asako Takakura picked up the AFC Women’s Coach of the year for the seventh time, while Spurs and South Korea forward Son Heung-min repeated last year by collecting the AFC Asian International player of the year.
The AFC Diamond of Asia award is a special recognition of an individual for an extraordinary contribution towards the development and promotion of football in Asia. The award this year recognised the King of Malaysia, His Majesty Al-Sultan Abduallah. His contribution to football goes far beyond that of ordinary ‘royals’ whose contributions are generally limited to giving out trophies. A leader in the fight against match-fixing and a supporter of the growth of the game across the continent, he recognised the progress being made saying: “We have made enormous strides in recent years and I am proud I have played my part in that journey.”
The latest stop on that journey was the seamless hosting and spectacular awards show by the Hong Kong FA and the AFC. The Qataris are promising amazing for the 2022 World Cup. Before then they host the AFC Awards next year, where they will have some way to go to match the vibrancy and welcome provided in Hong Kong that brought a fitting close to the AFC’s 2019 season.
Full list of nominees for AFC Annual Awards 2019
AFC Player of the Year (Men)
Akram Hassan Afif (Al Saad and QAT)
AFC Player of the Year (Women)
Saki Kumagai (Olympique Lyonnais and JPN)
AFC Asian International Player of the Year
Son Heung-min (KOR)
AFC Futsal Player of the Year
Tomoki Yoshikawa (JPN)
AFC Youth Player of the Year (Women)
Jun Endo (JPN)
AFC Youth Player of the Year (Men)
Lee Kang-in (KOR)
AFC Coach of the Year (Women)
Asako Takakura (JPN)
AFC Coach of the Year (Men)
Chung Jung-yong (KOR)
AFC Member Association of the Year (Inspiring)
Japan Football Association
AFC Member Association of the Year (Developing)
The Hong Kong Football Association LTD.
AFC Member Association of the Year (Aspiring)
Guam Football Association
AFC President Recognition Awards for Grassroots Football (Inspiring)
Chinese Football Association
AFC President Recognition Awards for Grassroots Football (Developing)
Football Association of Singapore
AFC President Recognition Awards for Grassroots Football (Aspiring)
National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam
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