Monday 12 December 2016, 09:07

Okazaki: I’m thrilled to win Asian award

Shinji Okazaki has expressed his joy at being named Asian International Player of the Year for 2016. The Japan attacker beat compatriot Shinji Kagawa and Korea Republic’s Son Heungmin to the prize.

“It’s a huge honour to collect this award from the Asian Football Confederation,” said the 30-year-old Leicester City player. “There are some really talented players to have come from Asia and who are playing their football for some of the world’s biggest teams, so I’m thrilled to be given this.

“I know that Shinji Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo have won this award in the past, so I’m really happy and I hope I can continue to achieve things with Leicester City and Japan in 2017.”

Okazaki broke the deadlock in a 5-0 win over Afghanistan in March with one of Japan’s most breathtaking all-time goals. The result sent the Samurai Blue into the third round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

The former Stuttgart and Mainz man has since helped them seize ten points from five games in Group B, which has left Japan behind leaders Saudi Arabia on goal difference and above Australia and United Arab Emirates by a point. The top two will qualify directly to the 21st World Cup, while the third-placed finishers will go into the playoffs.

Okazaki also aided Leicester’s fairy tale Premier League triumph, scoring a superb free-kick to earn victory over Newcastle United in the run-in.

Overall, he has netted 49 goals in 103 internationals – shy only of Kunishige Kamamoto and Kazu Miura.