GURGAON: UAE sharpshooter Ahmed Khalil stunned compatriot Omar Abdulrahman and China’s Zheng Zhi on Sunday as he was named Asian player of the year at a glittering ceremony in India.
The 24-year-old former youth player of the year could hardly believe his good fortune when his name emerged from the envelope at the Bollywood-themed show in Gurgaon, near New Delhi.
Much of the smart money had been on 2013 winner Zheng, after he led Guangzhou Evergrande to their second AFC Champions League title in three years against Khalil’s Al Ahli last week.
But instead it was Khalil who accepted the trophy from Asian football boss and FIFA presidential hopeful Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in front of hundreds of delegates.
“My feeling is something I cannot explain… this award means a lot to me. This achievement is not for Ahmed, it’s for all the people in the Emirates,” Khalil told reporters.
“In the end there can only be one winner. Maybe this year I gave my 100 percent in all matches. Honestly I did not expect to win this award — God has helped me win this award,” he added.
Khalil’s award is richly deserved after his goals fired UAE to third place at the Asian Cup in January and also took Al Ahli to the brink of the AFC Champions League title.
He has also scored 10 times in the UAE’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, raising hopes of a second appearance at the tournament after Italy 1990.
Khalil’s victory comes just a week after emotional scenes when he was substituted due to fatigue during Al Ahli’s decisive 1-0 defeat to Evergrande in the second leg of the Champions League final.
He said he would stay loyal to UAE outfit Al Ahli in the immediate future, despite a burning ambition to make the lucrative and prestigious move to Europe.
“Every player wants to play in Europe. I have goals that I have set for the future. My ambition is to play with a European club (but) I have a contract with my club and I will continue to play for them,” he said.
Khalil’s success denies Evergrande and China captain Zheng his second Asian player of the year award, and also means disappointment for Abdulrahman, known as “Amoory”.
The mop-topped playmaker dazzled with his performances at the Asian Cup but Khalil’s performances in the AFC Champions League helped tip the balance in his favour.
Among other awards, Ange Postecoglou was named coach of the year after guiding Australia to the Asian Cup title in January, and the Socceroos also won best men’s team.
“It’s been a great year for Australian football,” said Postecoglou.
“I guess this award is not just for me but everyone who works really hard, and not just the national team but the whole organisation.”
Tottenham Hotspur’s South Korean forward Son Heung-Min was named international player of the year and Evergrande’s Brazilian striker Ricardo Goulart won foreign player of the year.
Under Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rules, only footballers who attend the awards show are entitled to receive the main prize of Asian player of the year.
Arguably the biggest winners were Japan, who won seven awards in total including best women’s team for their Nadeshiko national outfit, who finished runners-up at World Cup in Canada.
And there was some consolation for Zheng when Evergrande were named club of the year, after winning their fifth straight domestic title as well as the Champions League.