Al Ain’s Ismail Ahmed is holding his breath on Asian Player of the Year award

Ismail Ahmed, the UAE and Al Ain defender, is one of three players short-listed for the Asian player of the year award, writes John McAuley. The winner is announced at an AFC ceremony in Manila on Sunday.

Al Ain defender Ismail Ahmed is in Manila on Sunday night where Asia’s best footballer will be crowned. Pawan Singh / The National
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MANILA // As perhaps the least celebrated of his fellow nominees, Ismail Ahmed spent a lengthy time on Saturday afternoon answering goodwill messages on his mobile phone.

The Al Ain defender, one of three candidates for the 2014 Asian player of the year award, sought refuge away from the cameras and microphones following a press briefing in Manila, where the continent’s best footballer will be crowned on Sunday night as part of the event commemorating the Asian Football Confederation’s 60th ­anniversary.

Nasser Al Shamrani and Khalfan Ibrahim, the other two players shortlisted, were much in demand, but Ahmed preferred to play it cool, phone in hand or pressed to his ear.

No matter the result, the UAE international centre-back is simply glad to be here and the support from home is much ­appreciated.

“Yesterday and today, many of my teammates called to say ‘good luck my friend’, that I am a good player and deserve it,” Ahmed said. “If I didn’t have them behind me and the backing of the Sheikhs then I would not have been nominated.”

While lifting the title would represent a first for the UAE – Ismail Matar came second in 2008 – Ahmed understands that, in Al Shamrani and Ibrahim, he has strong competition.

Al Shamrani is a clear favourite in the west Asian-dominated list, given he scored 10 goals to carry Al Hilal to the Asian Champions League final, while Ibrahim, a winger of significant repute with Qatar’s Al Sadd, lifted the award in 2006.

Being the outsider does not bother Ahmed.

“This day is one of my happiest,” he said. “I’m with my two brothers, great players in Khalfan and Nasser and, even if I don’t take the award, for me it is enough to be nominated. If I don’t win, I hope this won’t be the last time I’ll be in this ­position.”

A regular as Al Ain qualified for the Champions League semi-final, Ahmed said the 4-2 aggregate defeat to Hilal will only motivate the club to do better in 2015. The loss, largely the result of a manic 10-minute spell in the first leg, still rankles.

“Sometimes football comes down to luck,” said Ahmed, 31. “We played very well this year and maybe weren’t lucky against Hilal, because the first game we should have done better. But we are determined next year to hopefully go to the final.

“In football, you must always learn. I have done that since I started playing; you must learn so you can become better and be the best.”

Plying his trade for one of the continent’s most prominent sides certainly helps.

“I’m very lucky to play with Al Ain,” Ahmed said. “I’m so happy I’m in this team – they give me everything to be here.

“So now I want to give something back to make them happy. This award would do that.”

2014 Asian football award nominees

Player of the Year

Ismail Ahmed (Al Ain)

Nasser Al Shamrani (Al Hilal)

Khalfan Ibrahim (Al Sadd)

AFC Women’s Player of the Year

Katrina Lee Gorry (Australia)

Nahomi Kawasumi (Japan)

Aya Miyama (Japan)

AFC Coach of the Year (Men)

Jamal Mahmoud (Palestine national team)

Tony Popovic (Western Sydney Wanderers)

Norio Sasaki (Japan women’s national team)

AFC Coach of the Year (Women)

Gao Hong (China U-17 women’s national team)

Nuengrutai Srathongvian (Thailand women’s national team)

Asako Takemoto (Japan U-17 women’s national team)

AFC Club of the Year

Western Sydney Wanderers (Australia)

Al Qadsia (Kuwait)

FC HTTU (Turkmenistan)

AFC National Team of the Year (Men)

U-16 DPR Korea

Palestine

U-19 Qatar

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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