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Iranian Ali Daei named Asian Player of Year

By Michael Church

BEIRUT, April 6 (Reuters) - Iran and Hertha Berlin striker Ali Daei was named Asian Player of the Year for 1999 at the Asian Football Confederation's annual awards ceremony on Thursday. (Photo here) (Video from here)

The 31-year-old forward lifted the title ahead of two-time winner Hidetoshi Nakata of Japan, fellow Japanese striker Masashi Nakayama, Kuwait's Bashar Abdullah, Hwang Sun-hong of South Korea and Chinese female star Sun Wen - the first female to be in contention for the title.

Daei, who became the first Asian player to score in the Champions League when he struck twice against Chelsea for Hertha Berlin in the competition's opening group phase last September, said he was delighted.

"I am very honoured to be named Asian Player of the Year," he said.

"Scoring in the Champions League was very important in me winning this award. This was good for me and good for Asian football."

The win was Daei's first although the Iranian had been honoured by the AFC before.

In 1993, one year before the confederation started awarding the Player of the Year title, he was named the Most Valuable Player of Asia's World Cup qualifying tournament, effectively marking him out as the region's best at that time.

And the former Bayern Munich and Arminia Bielefeld forward used the opportunity to make public his next ambition - to play in England's premier league.

"I have two years left on my contract with Hertha Berlin," he said, "but I'd like to play in England and if I'm offered a good contract from an English club then I'd want to go there.

"I think I would play well in England. With my height I am strong with the long ball and with the kind of crosses they put in in England I think it would be even better for me to play there."

Daei is the second Iranian to win the award, Khodadad Azizi claiming the title in 1996 when his performances at the Asian Cup, in which Iran finished third, earned him the trophy.


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