Aussies dominate at Asian Football awards
THE Socceroos may have slumped to No. 102 on the FIFA rankings, but Australian players, coaches, clubs and referees have scooped the pool at the Asian Football Confederation awards in Manila.
After Western Sydney's triumph against Saudi club Al Hilal in the final of the Asian Champions League last month, it was no surprise the Wanderers were named club of the year, and Tony Popovic the coach of the year.
Other big winners were Socceroos and Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak, who was named international player of year, and Matildas sharpshooter Katrina Gorry who took out the women's player of the year award.
A-League assistant referee Matthew Cream, on the panel at this year's World Cup, took out the assistant referee of the year award.
Popovic, who played for Sydney United, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Crystal Palace, as well as making 58 appearances for the Socceroos in a distinguished playing career, became the first Australian to win the coach of the year award.
He said the honour would not have been possible without the support and contribution of the club and the playing group.
"It is a special achievement that will go down in history," the 41-year-old said.
"Just the resilience of the group, the belief when you think that it wouldn't be possible to get through the group stages, here we are where we have won the AFC Champions League and this is recognition for great work that everyone has done."
Wanderers chief executive John Tsatsimas echoed Popovic's sentiments about the scale of the achievement, admitting winning the Champions League had not been in the club's thinking.
"The achievements that have been accomplished by this club have been nothing short of outstanding," he said.
"Did we have high expectations? Yes, but did those expectations incorporate what has transpired in this two-and-half-year period? Absolutely not. But our prime focus was success and representing the people of Western Sydney as best we can on the global stage."
Gorry became the second Australian player after Matildas and Perth Glory star Katrina Gill in 2010 to take out the women's highest individual honour.
The Brisbane Roar and FC Kansas City player, who scored three goals in the Matildas' run to the Women's Asian Cup final, said she believed the women's game in Australia was on the verge of a boom.
"The footballing talent of the younger girls who are coming through in Australia is crazy; we have so many quality players coming through and it's a challenge to keep your place in the Matildas line-up," he 22-year-old said.
"The next six months ahead of the Women's World Cup are going to be exciting ones for Australian football."
The AFC player of the year announcement was clouded in controversy, with the winner, Al Hilal striker Nassir Al Shamrani, reportedly set to be banned for eight weeks for spitting at Wanderers defender Matthew Spiranovic after the second leg of the Champions League final in Riyadh.
- APN SPORTS BUREAU