Following in the footsteps of fellow Iranians Khodadad Azizi in 1996 and Ali Daei in 1999, midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia has been awarded the prestigious 2003 AFC Player of the Year. The Middle-East nation have now picked up three of the nine best player prizes since it was inaugurated in 1994, catching up with Japan, who scooped the award through Hidetoshi Nakata (1997 and 1998) and Shinji Ono (2002).
The 26-year old, who plays for German Bundesliga side Hamburg, pipped Thailand's Therdsak Chaiman, who helped his BEC Tero Sasana finish runners-up of the inaugural AFC Champions League this year, and Uzbekistan's Dynamo Kiev forward Maksim Shatskikh, who finished the 2002/2003 season as topscorer in the Ukraine national championship with 22 league goals, for the 2003 Asian crown.
Mahdavikia had a wonderful 2002/2003 season, helping Hamburg to finish fourth in the Bundesliga and a place in Europe, as well as a German League Cup victory. Leading their goal assists, Hamburg fans took the Iranian to heart, voting him the club’s player of the year.
He also played a significant role in the fortunes of Iran’s national team, setting up two goals in his team's 3-0 win over New Zealand in the AFC/OFC Challenge Cup in October. The Persian won the AFC Youth Player of the Year and Goal of the Year awards in 1997.
AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam praised the player, saying: "Mahdavikia has made a name for himself, for his club, for his country and for his continent. The AFC are very proud to have him as our ambassador."
Mahdavakia expressed his delight at the ceremony in Kuala Lumpur: "It's the biggest honour of my whole career," he said, "I had a dream to be the best player in Asia so my dream has come true. It's an honour for me, for my country, and my team-mates.
"The award means that I will be given more responsibility by my club and the national team. People in Iran will expect more from me and I am happy to accept that responsibility." He added.
Chinese women player Bai Jie won the 2003 AFC Women’s Player of the Year for her impressive performances during this year's AFC Women’s Championship and FIFA Women’s World Cup USA. Dubbed "Lady Roberto Carlos" by the Chinese press for her similar playing style to the Brazilian and Real Madrid star, Bai Jie, who used to play left-back, proved herself one of the world’s leading strikers after she was pushed into a more advanced position. Her crucial goal against Russia secured China’s passage to the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Japan's Yoshito Okubo was named AFC Young Player of the year, beating UAE's Ismail Matar and Iraq's Younis Mahmond. This 21-year-old striker, who plays for J-league club Cerezo Osaka, has notched 16 goals for his team in this season's league competition.
He has been a regular starter for Zico's Japan, playing in all of Japan's FIFA Confederations Cup matches this year. He helped Japan’s Olympic team to an 8-0 aggregate win over Myanmar this year, and back in 2002, he played for Japan's U-20 team that finished runners-up to Korea Republic in the AFC Under-20 Championship in Qatar. In October last year, he helped Japan's Olympic team beat China to reach the finals of the Asian Games, where they were eventually defeated by Iran.
Bruno Metsu's Al Ain captured the 2003 AFC Club of the year following their victory in the inaugural AFC Champions League, while Iraq, who qualified for the 2004 Asian Cup, were named the Team of the Year.
AFC Player of the Year
Mehdi Mahdavikia - Hamburg (GER) and Iran
AFC Young Player of the Year
Yoshito Okubo - Cerezo Osaka (JPN) and Japan
AFC National Team of the Year
AFC Coach of the Year
Cha Kyung-bok - Seongnam Chunma (KOR)
AFC Club of the Year
Al Ain (UAE)
AFC Futsal Team of the Year
AFC Women's Player of the Year
Bai Jie - China
AFC Women's Team of the Year
AFC Match Official of the Year
Moradi Masoud (Iran)
AFC Fair Play Award