Iran and Al Ahli's skilful midfielder Ali Karimi has been named as Asia's player of the year for 2004 at the 10th AFC Awards in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday. Karimi, who beat off the challenge of Bahrain's A'ala Hubail and Japan's Shunsuke Nakamura who were also shortlisted, follows in the footsteps of last year's winner Mehdi Mahdadivikia, Ali Daei and Khodad Azizi in bringing the prestigious trophy to the Persian nation.
"I have worked hard to win this award and I have a lot of people to thank," said Karimi, who along with both Hubail and Nakamura was joint top goalscorer at the Asian Cup.
"Now that I have won this award, I will have to work even harder as people will be watching me closely, but I will keep working hard and maybe I will be recognised by one of the bigger clubs in Europe."
Few of the many millions watching his performances in the continent's most prestigious tournament in July failed to recognise the player's scintillating dribbling skills. In an outstanding competition, the Iranian cracked a hat-trick in the 4-3 quarter-final upset of Korea Republic while grabbing three man of the match awards in all.
The 26-year-old's displays for United Arab Emirates' club Al Ahli, where he topped the league's scoring charts, also stood out and helped swing the votes of Asia's Technical Study Group members, representatives of the AFC's 45 associations and media in his favour.
Sawa so good
The women's award went to Japanese striker Homare Sawa, who once again starred in her country's progress to the quarter-finals of the Olympic Football Tournament in Athens in August.
The young player of the year prize was won by Korea Republic striker Park Chu Young, whose goals, the only two in the final against China, helped the young Taeguk Warriors to the AFC youth crown and a place in the world finals in the Netherlands next June.
The inaugural AFC Special Merit award went to the former President of Al Nasr club, Prince Abdul Rahman bin Saoud, who led the Saudi club in representing Asia in the FIFA Club World Championship 2000. The other eight awards handed out at a glamorous ceremony attended by AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam, AFC General Secretary, Dato' Peter Velappan were:
AFC Fair Play Team of the Year: China PR
AFC National Team of the Year: Japan
AFC National Women's Team of the Year: China PR (U-19)
AFC Futsal Team of the Year: Iran
AFC Club Team of the Year: Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia)
AFC Coach of the Year: Adnan Hamd Majeed (Iraq)
AFC Match Official of the Year: Lu Jun (China PR)