x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Matar faces stiff competition

Ismail Matar will find whether he is the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) player of the year in tomorrow's ceremony held in Shanghai.

Ismail Matar in action for Al Wahda.
Ismail Matar in action for Al Wahda.

SHANGHAI // Ismail Matar will find whether he is the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) player of the year in tomorrow's ceremony held in Shanghai. The tricky Al Wahda forward has done well in being named one of the final five nominee's for the award, a recognition that highlights just how far UAE football has progressed in recent years. Matar, 25, faces some stiff competition particularly from the Japanese duo of Yasuhito Endo and Yuji Nakazawa.

The Uzbeki Server Djeparov, Sebastian Soria of Qatar make up the quintet. The Gamba Osaka creative midfielder Endo is the front-runner after guiding his team to the AFC Champions League title who hopes that if he wins this distinction, it could lead to a possible move to European football. "I'm more than willing to go to Europe but if I don't get an offer I can't go and I don't have an offer yet," said Endo, 28, whose ability to score from midfield has been a major factor in his success with club and country.

Winning the AFC player of the year award has shown previously that it can open doors with last year's victor Yasser al Qahtani being handed a trial with Manchester City. The Saudi Arabia striker eventually turned down their offer, citing contractual issues. Wigan Athletic have since shown an interest in him. The Yokohama Marinos defender Nakazawa has won almost every individual award available in Japanese football, and a stint in Europe would put the icing on the cake. "If there was a chance to play in Europe I'd love to play there," he said.

"I'm 30 but I want to prove that I can still be competitive even at my age." Soria, born in Uruguay but now a Qatari national, almost moved to Spain last season from Qatar Sports Club and is again eyeing offers for 2009. "For players, you have to have ambition and it is very important to have a chance to play in Europe," said Soria. "Last season I had the opportunity to go to Spain but I'm still looking for the best option for my future. I'll go if the right offer is made." *AFP