Japan’s Shinji Ono has been named Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year for 2002 after beating off challenges from compatriot Junichi Inamoto, Korea Republic's Ahn Jung-hwan and China's Li Tie. Among other AFC awards, Dutchman Guus Hiddink claimed the AFC Coach of the Year prize for his sensational achievements in guiding Korea Republic to the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™.
Ono, who scooped the AFC Young Player of the Year title in 1998, becomes the third Japanese player to pick up the prize, following in the footsteps of Masami Ihara (1995) and Hidetoshi Nakata (1997 & 1998). The 23-year-old will collect the trophy on 4 June when his club side Feyenoord face former team, Urawa Reds, in a friendly in Saitama, Japan.
The winner - Shinji Ono: Feyenoord’s sparkplug
The left-sided midfielder was the youngest of the four nominees. A key player in Japan's historic 2002 FIFA World Cup™ run, his superb performances with Dutch Eredivisie side Feyenoord were even more convincing. He helped his team win the 2001/02 UEFA Cup, becoming only the second Asian player –former Korea coach Cha Bum-kun with Eintracht Frankfurt (1979/80) and Bayer Leverkusen (1987/88) was the first - to lift a major European trophy. This year, the Japanese midfielder also helped the Dutch side qualify for the first Group Stage of the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League.
The nominees - Ahn Jung-Hwan: instant hero
The unbridled joy of Korea/Japan 2002 still holds inspiring memories for most Asians. At the global bonanza, the AFC nations played a more influential role than ever before, both as hosts and competitors. Korea enjoyed their best ever finish thanks largely to Ahn Jung-Hwan, whose crucial goals against the United States and Italy helped his team reach unknown semi-final heights. The Koreans’ fairytale run was only stopped after they ran into eventual runners-up Germany (0-1).
Ahn's performance in the historic win over three-time FIFA World Cup winners Italy will go down as one of the greatest upsets in finals’ history – and one of Korean football’s proudest moments. Despite missing a penalty in the crucial Round of Sixteen meeting, the Perugia forward persevered, and in the 117th minute he glanced in a golden goal header to secure a 2-1 win over the former champions. Along with booking the side a place in the quarter-finals, the goal instantaneously made Ahn an Asian hero for the ages.
After the finals, Ahn left Perugia and joined up with Japanese side Shimizu S-pulse and helped them reach the group stages of the inaugural AFC Champions League.
Li Tie: China’s workhorse
Li Tie was the only player to play every minute of every qualifier and the three group-stage matches at the finals for Bora Milutinovic’s China. “No one could take his spot in the Chinese team,” Milutinovic said. “He plays relentlessly and runs tirelessly. He could pop up any time and anywhere on the pitch when needed.”
i's successes continued after Korea/Japan, as he quickly became a top performer with resurgent English Premier League side Everton. With his trademark hard work and hustle, Li cemented his place in the Merseyside club’s starting eleven, helping them finish an impressive seventh in one of the world’s toughest leagues. “Li Tie is a really determined young man,” said Everton boss David Moyes - recently crowned Manager of the Season in England. “He has really surprised me. He is adjusting to the pace of the game very quickly and is getting stronger with every game. He has done really well.”
Junichi Inamoto: A shining finals
Like Ahn Jung-hwan, Inamoto's two marvellous goals were crucial for his team's first-ever trip to the second round of a FIFA World Cup, and will be remembered by Japanese fans for years to come. In the co-hosts’ first match with Belgium (2-2), Inamoto scored his first finals’ goal - and Japan’s second - after bursting through the Belgian defence in the 67th minute and firing his shot just inside the far post. In the following match against Russia, Inamoto's 51st-minute strike secured his team's first-ever FIFA World Cup victory and paved the way to the knockout rounds.
After an unsuccessful season with Arsenal (he failed to play even one Premiership match with the club), Inamoto moved to fellow London outfit Fulham, and he was instrumental in helping them to their first taste of European silverware with a man-of-the-match performance in the final of the UEFA Intertoto Cup.
Korea dominate other awards
Korea Republic, semi-finalists at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, scooped a number of other AFC awards for 2002. Along with Hiddink, midfielder Lee Chun-soo, a key member of the Dutchman’s squad at the finals, grabbed the AFC Young Player of the Year title. Lee had been named K-League Rookie of the Year after helping Ulsan Hyundai finish runners-up.
The South Koreans, who also won the AFC U-20 and U-17 Championships, picked up the AFC National Team of the Year prize as well as the AFC Fair Play Award.
Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor were named AFC Club Team of the Year after winning the country’sLeague and Cup double and reaching the semi-finals of the first-ever AFC Champions League, having come through six preliminary qualifying matches.
I.R. Iran collected the AFC Futsal Team of the Year award, as they continued winning habits in the AFC Futsal Championship.
The AFC Referee and Assistant Referee of the Year accolade went to Japan's ToruKamikawa and Ali Al Traifi of Saudi Arabia, who both won warm praise for their performances at last year's FIFA World Cup.