Al Qahtani's road to glory
© AFP

Saudi Arabia captain Yasser Al Qahtani was named the AFC Player of the Year 2007 at the Annual Awards ceremony in Sydney on Wednesday. The Al Hilal striker, who received more votes than his Iraqi rivals Younis Mahmoud and Nashat Akram, led his country to the final of the AFC Asian Cup before guiding his club to the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League this year.

"I would like to dedicate this award to my friends, team-mates, and also to my family," the 25-year-old said. "This award made things more difficult for me. It will make me more responsible as we will have to achieve more success to satisfy the Saudi fans."

In fact, Al Qahtani has been a key figure for his country since making his international debut against Bahrain in January 2002. Although he was left out of the squad for the FIFA World Cup™ later that year, the player returned to the Saudi Arabia side after their early exit from the group stage in Korea and Japan.

Two years later, Al Qahtani played in all of Saudi Arabia's matches at the AFC Asian Cup in China, scoring a brace against Turkmenistan. His goals, however, were unable to prevent the Saudis bowing out of the tournament with only one point from three games. He then left Al Qadisiya the following year for Riyadh giants Al Hilal, who paid his boyhood club a record $5.33 million for his services.

His next journey was with the Saudis to Germany 2006, although, once again, the script failed to follow his dreams. Al Qahtani did score his first FIFA World Cup goal in a thrilling 2-2 draw with Tunisia, but the exciting No20 could not find the net as his team suffered a 4-0 loss against Ukraine. More disappointingly, he had to watch the final group game from the bench, with Saudi Arabia going down 1-0 at the hands of Spain.

If 2006 had failed to live up to expectations for Al Qahtani, then 2007 has made up for this disappointment. Indeed, three goals in the Gulf Cup at the start of the year preceded a four-goal return in July's Asian Cup.

'The Sniper' opened his account with a late penalty in a 1-1 draw with Korea Republic, before adding another as the Saudis beat co-hosts Indonesia 2-1. His third goal helped them to a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan in the quarter-final, with his fourth coming in a 3-2 reverse of Japan in the last four.

Awards aplenty
Iraq, who defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final to become the Asian champions for the first time, were rewarded with the National Team of the Year award, while AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds took the Club Team of the Year prize.

The captain of Korea DPR's U-20 side, Kim Kum-Il, who was so impressive at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, was named the Youth Player of the Year, while Uzbekistan coach Rauf Inileev pocketed the Coach of the Year honour.

Iran swept the indoor football category, as Vahid Shamsaee was voted the Futsal Player of the Year with the Asian champions named the Futsal Team of the Year.

AFC Annual Awards 2007;
AFC Player of the Year: Yasser Al Qahtani (KSA)
AFC Youth Player of the Year: Kim Kum-Il (PRK)
AFC Futsal Player of the Year: Vahid Shamsaee (IRN)

National Team of the Year: Iraq
Club Team of the Year: Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN)
Futsal Team of the Year: Iran

Coach of the Year: Rauf Inileev (UZB)
Referee of the Year: Mark Shield (AUS)
Assistant Referee of the Year: Mohammed Hamad Al Ghamdi (KSA)

Association of the Year: China
Fair Play Association of the Year: Japan
Diamond of Asia: Lennart Johanson (SWE)