Ahmed Khalil dedicated his AFC Asian player of the year award to the UAE after becoming the first Emirati to be voted the continent’s finest footballer.
The Al Ahli striker, who won the young player gong in 2008, was presented with the trophy at a ceremony in New Delhi on Sunday, clinching the title ahead of compatriot Omar Abdulrahman and China’s Zheng Zhi.
Khalil is only the third player to have collected both individual Asian awards, following Iran’s Mehdi Mahdavikia and Japan’s Shinji Ono. He is the second Ahli player to win the senior crown after Ali Karimi in 2004.
“I’ve worked very hard, but did not expect to win, so I thank God,” Khalil said. “Winning this award is a special feeling. Everyone tries his best but in the end only one person can win. Maybe this year I gave my 100 per cent in all matches.
“I cannot explain my feeling. It means a lot to me. It’s not for me only, it’s for all the people of the Emirates.”
Khalil, 24, has enjoyed a remarkable 2015, which began with scoring four goals in January to help the UAE national team take bronze at the Asian Cup – their best performance on foreign soil. He has since been a star of the UAE’s joint qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup, scoring 10 goals thus far. The UAE sit second in Group A with two fixtures remaining.
Khalil has impressed for his club, too, finding the net six times in the Asian Champions League as Ahli finished runners-up this month to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande. Only Guangzhou’s Ricardo Goulart scored more.
In winning, Khalil betters three previous nominees from the UAE, with Al Shaab’s Adnan Al Talyani (1990), Al Wahda’s Ismail Matar (2008) and Al Ain’s Ismail Ahmed (2014) all narrowly missing out on the award. Abdulrahman, the Al Ain playmaker and a standout at January’s Asian Cup, now also joins the list.
Predictably, Khalil was asked in India about aspirations of playing in Europe, to which he responded: “I have goals that I have set for the future and I will try my best to achieve them. I have ambitions to play in Europe, but at present I have a contract with my current club.”
The UAE had five nominees for this year’s awards, with national team manager Mahdi Ali missing out to Australia’s Ange Postecoglou for best coach, while Guangzhou beat Ahli to best club. The Champions League winners were also represented by Goulart, who pipped Ahli’s Everton Ribeiro to best foreign player.
Yousef Al Serkal, the UAE Football Association president, said the number of candidates highlighted the continued development of football in the country.
“We are delighted to see the UAE lads on the podium,” he said. “Ahmed Khalil and Omer Abdulrahman deserve the trophy and both are very precious UAE stars.
“This distinction underlines the size of talent within UAE football and the high skills the current generation possess. We are confident they deserve to be in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and we will provide all resources to support them and back their efforts. Nothing is impossible.”
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