A little less than a fortnight from this year's AFC Awards Night on 29 November 2006, the continent's football governing body announced its shortlist of ten players who are in contention for its prestigious Player of the Year award.
Unlike last season when six European-based stars were included among the ten-man list, this year's edition saw nine Asian-based players dominate the shortlist for the continent's ultimate individual accolade. Iraq midfielder Hawar Mulla Mohamed, who is playing in Cyprus with Apollon Club, is the only exception.
Another notable change is that this year's AFC awards ceremony will take place in Abu Dhabi in the UAE, which marks only the third occasion it has been staged outside of Kuala Lumpur. The two previous exceptions occurred in Beirut (1999) and Singapore (2001).
Since its inception in 1994, four nations have dominated the coveted award - as four players each from Japan and Iran and three from Saudi Arabia have been crowned as the AFC Player of the Year. The only player outside these three countries to win the award was former China captain and Crystal Palace defender Fan Zhiyi, who picked up the prize in 2001.
However, neither Japan nor Iran harbour hopes of winning the award this year - as none of their players have made the shortlist. Saudi Arabia, however, stand a chance of winning the award for a fourth time as Mohamed Al Shlhoub and Essa Al Mahiyani are included as nominees.
New names included
Joining Saudi Arabia with two candidates in the shortlists are Iraq, who have Younis Mahmood and Hawar Mulla Mohamed included. Meanwhile, fans from Tajikistan, Palestine, Qatar, Kuwait, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates have been boosted by the news that their star players have been included among the final ten.
"The shortlist fully reflects the AFC's determination to honour players who have shown a strong commitment to playing in Asia and popularising the game," said Clare Kenny Tipton, AFC Assistant General Secretary and Director of Communications and Marketing.
The names in the shortlist are no strangers to fans across Asia, as they have shone on the continental stage for the past year.
Kuwait striker Badr Al Mutawa was his team's talisman during qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, scoring four times to steer the Gulf nation to the final preliminary round ahead of China. He had a memorable AFC Champions League campaign with Al Qadisiya this season, netting five times as his club reached the semi-finals.
Ismael Matar, who was one of the revelations of the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003 as the tournament's Golden Ball winner, also took his place on the shortlist.
Having helped Iraq to the 2007 AFC Asian Cup finals, Younis Mahmood again found his name in the nominees list for an AFC individual award. The 23-year-old was up for the AFC Youth Player of the Year back in 2003 after his wonderful display in Iraq's successful qualifying run for 2004 Asian Cup as the team's top scorer. This season saw him score 20 goals for Al Gharafa making him the Qatari league's second highest scorer.
Nominees for the 2006 AFC Player of the Year Award (in alphabetical order)
Badr Al Mutawa (Kuwait and Al Qadisiya)
Essa Al Mahiyani (Saudi Arabia and Al Wehda - Saudi)
Fahed Attal (Palestine)
Hawar Mulla Mohamed (Iraq and Apollon, Cyprus)
Ibraguim Rabimov (Tajikistan and Regar-Tadaz)
Ismael Matar (UAE and Al Wahda - UAE)
Khalfan Ibrahim (Qatar and Al Sadd)
Lionel Lewis (Singapore and Home United)
Mohamed Al Shlhoub (Saudi Arabia and Al Hilal)
Younis Mahmood (Iraq and Al Gharafa)
Past winners of the AFC Player of the Year Award
1994: Saeed Owairan (Saudi Arabia and Al Shabab)
1995: Masami Ihara (Japan and Yokohama Marinos)
1996: Khodadad Azizi (Iran and Pirouzi)
1997: Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan and Bellmare Hiratsuka)
1998: Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan and Perugia)
1999: Ali Daei (Iran and Hertha Berlin)
2000: Nawaf Al Temyat (Saudi Arabia and Al Hilal)
2001: Fan Zhiyi (China and Dundee)
2002: Shinji Ono (Japan and Feyenoord)
2003: Mehdi Mahdavikia (Iran and Hamburg)
2004: Ali Karimi (Iran and Al Ahli of UAE)
2005: Hamad Al Montashari (Saudi Arabia and Al Ittihad)