Football: Ahmed Khalil edges Zheng Zhi to win Asian player of the year title

Football: UAE footballer Ahmed Khalil gives a thumbs up on his arrival in New Delhi on Sunday.
Football: UAE footballer Ahmed Khalil gives a thumbs up on his arrival in New Delhi on Sunday.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - Emirati Ahmed Khalil got a modicum of revenge on Guangzhou Evergrande captain Zheng Zhi when he pipped the Chinese to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Player of the Year award on Sunday.

Khalil's Al Ahli club finished runners-up in the AFC Champions League as Zheng guided Guangzhou to their second continental title in three years.

But the 24-year-old Khalil won the individual battle in a glittering ceremony on the outskirts of the Indian capital, denying 2013 winner Zheng a second AFC Player of the Year award and also beating compatriot Omar Abdulrahman to emerge as the continent's top player.

"I cannot explain my feeling," Khalil told reporters. "It means a lot to me. It's not for me only, it's for all the people of the Emirates."

Khalil became only the third player to have won both the senior and youth individual accolades and the forward said he would like to play in Europe at some point.

"I have goals that I have set for the future and I will try my best to achieve them. I have ambitions to play in Europe but presently I have a contract with my current club."

Guangzhou won the AFC Club of the Year award, while their Brazilian recruit and AFC Champions League top scorer Ricardo Goulart won the AFC Foreign Player of the Year award.

Asian Cup champions Australia won the men's team of the year award, while Japan claimed the women's team honour. Ange Postecoglou won the top coach's honour for masterminding Australia's home triumph.

"What a year it has been - with the (viewership) record broken on the opening days of January in Australia, right up to the last few days in Guangzhou," said AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who has entered the FIFA presidency race.

"For a long time, people talked of the future being Asia and they are now convinced that the present is Asia. I'm certain that we stand on the very brink of greatness in this continent - the dawning of an Asian age."