Tokyo: Japan midfielder Shinji Ono has been named Asian Player of the Year for 2002 after helping Dutch club Feyenoord win the Uefa Cup, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said on Wednesday.
The 23-year-old edged out Japan teammate Junichi Inamoto (Fulham), South Korea striker Ahn Jung-hwan (Shimizu S-Pulse) and China midfielder Li Tie (Everton) to become the third Japanese player to win the award since its introduction in 1994.
Former Japan captain Masami Ihara won it in 1995 and Parma midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata received the award in 1997 and 1998.
Not surprisingly, Dutch man Guus Hiddink received the AFC Coach of the Year award for steering South Korea to the World Cup semi-finals.
The AFC named South Korea the top team of 2002 and South Korea midfielder Lee Chun-soo as Young Player of the Year.
Ono will be presented with the AFC trophy on June 4 when Feyenoord play his former J-League club Urawa Reds in a friendly at Saitama Stadium.
He becomes the first person to win both the AFC Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards, having won the latter in 1998.
Ahn had been a slight favourite to win the top award for playing a major role in helping co-hosts South Korea reach the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time last year.
The 27-year-old famously scored the golden goal that knocked Italy out of the finals, prompting a furious Perugia president Luciano Gaucci to declare that Ahn would “never set foot in Perugia again”.
In contrast, Ono was struck by an appendix problem just before the World Cup that restricted his influence during the tournament staged jointly by Japan and South Korea.
However, Ono was a central figure as Feyenoord won their second Uefa Cup title in 2002, becoming the first Japanese player on the winning side of a European club competition and only the second Asian.
South Korean Cha Bum-kun won the Uefa Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt in 1980 and again with Bayer Leverkusen in 1988.