Syrian striker Omar Khrbin was awarded the Asian Football Confederation’s 2017 Player of the Year Wednesday, after starring both for his club and for his war-ravaged country’s attempt to make the World Cup.
The award, at a glittering ceremony in Bangkok, goes some way to compensate for the disappointment endured by the 23-year-old over the weekend when his Al Hilal side narrowly lost 1-2 on aggregate to Japan’s Uwara Red Diamonds in the AFC Champions League final.
Australia’s Samantha Kerr claimed the women’s Player of the Year title in Bangkok, after tearing through defences for US-based Sky Blue FC and her national side.
Khrbin was selected ahead of last year’s winner, UAE superstar, Omar Abdulrahman, and Wu Lei, the skilful Chinese winger.
The Syrian national football team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after losing last month in agonising fashion by a single goal over two legs to Australia.
Yet is was an inspiring sporting journey for the team — and their top scorer — against the backdrop of Syria’s grinding six-year civil war.
Khrbin showed a knack for scoring key goals, both in his country’s qualification campaign and in Al Hilal’s run to the AFC Champions League Final.
He scored the equaliser for the Saudi outfit in the home leg with Urawa Red Diamonds, before they went down by a single goal in Japan.
In receiving the award, the 23-year-old thanked God and members of the national team.
“We apologise to all the fans because we did not achieve the greatest results but we promise them to keep trying our best,” he said.
The AFC award for the best international player — an Asian based outside the region — went to South Korean Son Heung-Min, who has become a fans’ favourite at Tottenham Hotspur.
KHRBIN’S STANDOUT YEAR:
Brazilian Rafael Silva snatched an early winner as Japan’s Urawa Reds beat star-studded Shanghai SIPG 1-0 at home on Wednesday to set up an Asian Champions League final against Saudi giants Al Hilal.
The Reds and Al Hilal will face off in next month’s two-leg final after a 2-1 aggregate win ended Japan’s miserable recent run in Asia’s premier club competition.
The winner of that final will feature in the FIFA Club World Cup this December in Abu Dhabi.
Silva pounced after just 11 minutes in Saitama when he met a Yosuke Kashiwagi corner to power a header past Shanghai goalkeeper Yan Junling for what proved to be the only goal of a fractious encounter.
Japanese clubs have struggled to make an impact in the competition since Urawa’s victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka’s triumph a year later.
Although Shanghai largely dominated possession, with Brazil internationals Oscar and Hulk threatening in spells, the visitors lacked end product, allowing Urawa to complete a relatively untroubled victory.
Hulk, who tops the Champions League scoring charts with nine goals, brought a smart save from Reds keeper Shusaku Nishikawa with a dipping free kick after 24 minutes.
But the Reds could have added further goals in the second half as a Tomoaki Makino header clipped the bar and Shinzo Koroki saw a close-range effort brilliantly tipped over by Yan.
Another Hulk rocket 12 minutes from time forced a decent block from Nishikawa, who then reacted quickly to smother Elkeson’s follow-up.
But Shanghai’s performance had Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas ranting on the touchline a day after the former Chelsea boss turned 40.
“It was a great effort from the whole team to keep a clean sheet,” said Urawa captain Yuki Abe after the Reds ended 10 years of hurt in the ACL.
“We knew the first goal would be crucial but we came into the match with no fear and got the result. Hopefully we can do it again in the final.”
Al Hilal completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Iran’s Persepolis on Tuesday after scoring four unanswered goals in the first leg.
Zoran Mamic bemoaned a lack of killer instinct that denied Al Ain the chance at an appearance in consecutive AFC Champions League finals.
The Boss were dumped out of the competition following a 3-0 second-leg rout in Riyadh by Al Hilal – although Mamic felt his side dominated the first half but were undone by wasted chances, while two rapid fire goals from the hosts just before the interval left them with a mountainous task.
“My team played the best football and dominated most of the game,” said the Croat, who saw defenders Tsukusa Shiotani and Mohamed Ahmed both waste good opportunities to open the scoring and silence the King Fahd International Stadium crowd.
“The team could not translate the opportunities they had into goals and if you cannot do that at this stage of the competition, then certainly you will not qualify for the semi-finals.”
Failure to strike an early blow and gain a precious away goal would prove catastrophic for the visiting team when lethal Brazilian playmaker Carlos Eduardo headed and volleyed in from Nicolas Milesi free-kicks within four minutes at the end of the first half.
Al Ain threw caution to the wind after the break and former Porto schemer Eduardo made sealed the Crescent’s passage into the last four by completing his hat-trick 16 minutes from time.
Al Ain were shorn of experienced UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem – sent off in the first leg in the Garden City three weeks ago, as well as fellow suspended defender Khaled Abdulrahman – but Mamic did not see their absences as significant factors.
“I do not think the absences were the cause of the loss, because the opposing team also has absences in their ranks,” said Mamic of Hilal, who were missing Saudi Arabia international Salman Al Faraj.
“The loss is clear and lies in not exploiting the chances that we had to score, in addition to our lack of focus in the second half.
“We did not show the required level in the second half of the game and did not succeed in the implementation of our duties.
“We lacked focus. Certainly, in the second half, we had no choice but to adopt an offensive style and we had to leave spaces in the field. This helped Hilal.”
The same scoreline at home in 2014’s semi-finals helped Hilal into the ACL final that year and coach Ramon Diaz revealed he had every confidence his side would get the job done at home.
“Al Hilal showed great desire to qualify and the team spirit in the game was high,” said the Argentine.
“My team was able to overcome all the circumstances and absences and I do not forget the important role played by the crowd in the match, as everyone contributed to achieve this strong result.”
Although former Paraguay coach Diaz hopes he can deliver his side into another final, he was hoping compatriots Al Ahli Jeddah could overcome Iran’s Persepolis in the other west Asia semi-final last night in order to ensure a Saudi team is guaranteed a final berth.
“I certainly hope to meet a Saudi team so that the Kingdom will have a seat in the Champions League final, so I hope Saudi Arabia qualify in the next phase of the competition,” he added.