By Michael Church
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Qatar’s Akram Afif has been named Asian Player of the Year at the Asian Football Confederation’s annual awards in Hong Kong on Monday, with Saki Kumagai from Japan claiming the women’s prize.
Afif becomes the second Qatari player in a row to win the award, succeeding compatriot Abdelkarim Hassan.
The Al Sadd striker was instrumental in his country’s title win at the Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates at the start of the year and also led his club to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League.
“Very happy to be selected as the Asian Player of the Year,” the 23-year-old, who was unable to attend the ceremony due to his involvement with Qatar in the ongoing Gulf Cup, wrote on Twitter.
“This is a great honour for me. Thanks to my team mates and brothers, the players of my club as well as the coaching staff and all the national team family, (I) would like to tell them we are all players of the year.”
Afif won the award ahead of Iranian World Cup goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Japanese defender Tomoaki Makino, who helped Urawa Red Diamonds to the final of the Asian Champions League.
Kumagai has had a remarkable year for club and country, helping Olympique Lyonnais win the French league and cup as well as the Women’s Champions League.
The 29-year-old was also a key member of the Japan squad that reached the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup in France and scooped the award for the first time ahead of China’s Li Ying and Ashalata Devi Loitongbam from India.
“It’s a great honour and I’m happy to receive this award,” said Kumagai.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who supported me and brought me to this stage, especially my team mates in Olympique Lyonnais and the people that helped me grow every day and made me stand here tonight.”
Tottenham Hotspur’s South Korean striker Son Heung-min was named the International Player of the Year while his 18-year-old compatriot Lee Kang-in, who plays in midfield for Valencia, was named the Youth Player of the Year.
Japan’s Asako Takakura won the women’s coaching award for a record seventh time in eight years while the men’s title was presented to Chung Jung-yong, who led South Korea to the final of the Under 20 World Cup earlier in the year.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Radnedge)