AFC Annual Awards 2018: Asia’s best Abdelkarim Hassan is the star Qatar and Al Sadd have hopes pinned on

Rare goalkeeper assist in Wellington’s defeat of Western Utd

Qatar’s 25-year-old defender Abdelkarim Hassan has been named the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Men’s Player of the Year at the AFC Annual Awards 2018. The well-deserved recognition caps off what was an exciting year for the Al Sadd left-back. 

It’s never easy for a defender to win a continent’s best player award. Italy’s 2006 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro was the last defender to win the prize in Europe while a defender is yet to win the African Footballer of the Year gong.

In Asia, Australia centre-back Saša Ognenovski was the last defender to win the AFC’s Player of the Year award back in 2010 after guiding his South Korean club Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to the AFC Champions League crown that year.

So, it should make Abdelkarim a little special to win the biggest individual honour in Asian football — that too by beating the two favourites — the Japanese duo of Kento Misao and Yuma Suzuki, midfielder and striker respectively, who starred in J-League outfit Kashima Antlers’ maiden Champions League triumph earlier this month.

Abdelkarim also starred for Qatari side Al Sadd in the Champions League, but their run was cut short by eventual runners-up Persepolis FC of Iran in the semifinals. Al Sadd conceded a 1-0 defeat at their home of Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha and could only manage a 1-1 draw in the second leg while a win was mandatory.

The 25-year-old, who was a marauding presence on the left wing throughout the two legs, even had a couple of opportunities to score past the Iranians, but luck wouldn’t have it for the Aspire Academy youth product. He featured in 11 games in the ACL last season, but while Al Sadd only managed a single clean sheet, Abdelkarim’s work-rate drew the plaudits.

The Qatari also had a loan stint with Belgium first division side Eupen from June last year for whom he made 10 appearances scoring and assisting a goal in the Jupiler Pro League. He also was in fine notch with Al Sadd in the Qatar Stars League scoring one goal and assisting a further four in 10 matches.

Abdelkarim made his debut for Al Sadd in 2010, and in the following year, he became the youngest player to feature in the 2011 AFC Champions League at the age of just 17. His meteoric rise continued as he was named the Young Player of the Year in the 2012-13 Qatar Stars League. And he looks set to continue on the ascendancy.

With Qatar preparing to host a historic FIFA World Cup in the country in a little over three years’ time, Abdelkarim is one of the stars the Arab nation has pinned its hopes on for a good showing in the biggest sporting event on the planet come 2022.

Though only 25, Abdelkarim is already a veteran at the international stage having won 69 caps for Qatar since 2010 and scoring nine times during that period. He was the youngest among the players called up for the national team camp ahead of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and helped the nation qualify for the 2015 edition.

However, he did not have the best of tournaments in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup as his team exited in the group stages and he will be hungry for success at the international stage — starting with the 2019 AFC Asian Cup to begin in the United Arab Emirates coming January 2019.

On Wednesday night in Doha, the third time was indeed the charm for Abdelkarim as he was named Asia’s best after missing out on the AFC award on the two previous occasions he was nominated. And it looks like the recognition is only just the beginning of a long road the young Qatari will tread as he looks to guide his club and country to glory on multiple stages.