Uzbekistan's Server Djeparov was named Asian player of the year on Tuesday, but the night belonged to Japan as the East Asians scooped club, national team and coach of the year at a glittering ceremony.
Japan has long been considered the region's footballing power and it proved why once again at the annual Asian Football Confederation (AFC) awards. Gamba Osaka's Akira Nishino won coach of the year while his team was voted the best club of 2008.
The country also won the fair play trophy while late Japan Football Association president Ken Naganuma was handed a lifetime achievement award. Japan's impressive 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign contributed to the blue-clad side winning the national team gong, adding to the Asian women's player of the year award that Homare Sawa won at a seperate ceremony last week.
But it was Uzbek international Djeparov who took the top honour ahead of Japan's Gamba midfielder Yasuhito Endo, considered to be the frontrunner after being voted most valuable player in this year's AFC Champions League. The influential midfielder, who played a key role in Kuruvchi's domestic double and their AFC Champions League campaign this year, said he was honoured.
"It is so surprising to receive this trophy," he said, adding that he hoped it would raise the profile of Uzbeki football. "Uzbekistan has seen positive changes in the development of football in recent years. The government has done its best to help football. "Winning this trophy will have a positive affect on the future of Uzbeki football and its image in Asia and the world."
Gamba double up
Nishino was named coach of the year for guiding Gamba to the AFC Champions League title, where they beat Adelaide United 5-0 on aggregate in the final and secured a place at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan next month.
"It is incredible," said the 53-year-old. "Thank you to my team, they are wonderful players. The J.League is of course very important but for Gamba we want to make a stand in Asia. The AFC Champions League was the biggest victory in our history, we did our best and fortunately we were there to win the trophy."
Nishino added that he wanted his side to build on their AFC Champions League success and become a force to be reckoned with. "We will take a step forward and achieve more in future. We must develop a stronger team before we face all the upcoming challenges."
Naganuma was recognised with the special "Diamond of Asia" award for his services to football. The former FA president, who died of pneumonia in June aged 77, was a former coach of the Japanese national team who led them to their only Olympic medal (bronze in Mexico in 1968) and then headed the JFA from 1994-1998. He played a central role in the inauguration of the J-League in 1993 and as honorary president of the JFA was pivotal in bringing the 2002 FIFA World Cup to Japan, who co-hosted the event with Korea Republic.
United Arab Emirate's Ahmed Kalil was named youth player of the year while Uzbekistan's Ravshan Irmatov was referee of the year.