Al Qahtani best in Asia | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 29, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 29, 2007

Al Qahtani best in Asia


Saudi Arabia striker Yasser Al Qahtani displays the trophy after winning the AFC Player of the Year accolade during the Annual Awards in Sydney on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Saudi Arabian goal-machine Yasser Al Qahtani, nicknamed "The Sniper", was Wednesday named Asian player of the year and said he wanted to move to Europe, with Middlesbrough leading the chase. At a glittering awards ceremony in Sydney, Iraq was voted Asian team of the year while former UEFA president Lennart Johansson received a special "Diamond of Asia" award for his services to Asian football.
The Swede, 78, was UEFA head for 17 years until he was ousted by French legend Michel Platini in January.
Al Qahtani beat off challenges from Iraqi stars Nashat Akram and Younis Mahmoud to become the fourth player from his country to pick up the accolade in the 14 years that it has been handed out.
The Al Hilal striker, 25, got the nod after ending the Asian Cup as joint-top scorer along with Younis and Naohiro Takahara of Japan.
His knack of finding the back of the net prompted Riyadh giants Al Hilal to pay over five million US dollars to prise him away from Al Qadisiya in 2005, and he is now attracting interest from Europe.
"I'm so proud I'm lost for words," he said.
"I think the award will do a lot for us as players to popularise our names in Europe and have European clubs follow Asian players."
He confirmed that English Premier League club Middlesbrough were interested in his services, but while he has ambitions to play overseas he said he would only move if the circumstances are right.
"Every player wishes to play in Europe but having said that, I also play for a very big club and there has to be a benefit for me and my country if I am to go to play in Europe.
"If I do go to Europe, I'd prefer Spain or England."
Asia's top European-based stars, such as Japan's Shunsuke Nakamura, China's Zheng Zhi, and Australia's Mark Viduka, were overlooked for the award which is conditional on the player attending the ceremony.
For European-based players, it is a near-impossible task with Champions League games on Wednesday and weekend fixtures to prepare for. In other awards, Ubzkekistan's Rauf Inileev won coach of the year.
A host of coaches however were ruled out of contention as the fine-print stipulates that they must be an Asian national.
This ended any hopes that Brazilian Jorvan Viera had of being recognised for steering Iraq to their first Asian Cup title, which helped unite the country's bitterly divided communities in a rare moment of jubilation.
But Iraq did scoop the Asian Football Confederation team of the year award in recognition of their exploits at the Asian Cup which they won for the first time.
Iraq Football Federation chief Hussain Saeed said it would boost his team ahead of World Cup qualifying, where they are drawn in a group of death with Australia, China and Qatar.
"I'd like to dedicate this to the people of Iraq, everybody who supported us," he said.
"I hope it brings joy and smiles to our nation."
For the first time this year the women's awards were separate to the men.
North Korea's ace striker Ri Kum-Suk was handed the women's player of the year gong in Kuala Lumpur earlier in the month, edging out Japan's Homare Sawa and Australia's Collette McCallum.
AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red of Japan won club of the year while Australia's Mark Shields, who was in charge of the Asian Cup final, was named best referee.
List of Asian football award winners

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