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Thursday, June 5, 2003

Ono returns home to take his bow as Asia's Player of Year

SAITAMA (Kyodo) Japan and Feyenoord star Shinji Ono on Wednesday received his Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year 2002 at his former club Urawa Reds.

Ono stepped onto the pitch at Saitama Stadium 2002 before the start of a friendly match between his old team and his current one to accept the award from AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam.

Nursing a sore right ankle, Ono only played 16 minutes of the match that finished in a 2-2 draw.

"I am extremely delighted to win this award as it recognizes my efforts and contribution to Asian football," said Ono after picking up his award.

"This award will undoubtedly inspire me to scale greater heights in promoting Asian football to the masses. I would like to thank the AFC for this award and Feyenoord for making me the player I am today," added the 23-year-old.

Hammam paid a warm tribute to the midfielder, praising his performances for club and country.

"Shinji is the perfect winner for the AFC Player of the Year 2002 as he has displayed enthralling performances in Europe by winning the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord," said Hammam.

"This was a proud achievement for an Asian player, coupled with the fact that he is an automatic choice for first-team selection," he said.

Ono, who played a pivotal role in helping his Dutch club win the 2002 UEFA Cup, becomes only the third Japanese to win the title since the awards were inaugurated in 1994.

Former Japan captain Masami Ihara won it in 1995 and Hidetoshi Nakata in 1997 and 1998.

Ono, who edged out compatriot Junichi Inamoto, South Korean star Ahn Jung Hwan and China's Li Tie for the award, is also the first player to win both the AFC Player of the Year and AFC Young Player of the Year titles, having won the latter in 1998.

Ono's UEFA Cup triumph with Feyenoord made him the first Japanese and only the second Asian to win a major European title.

South Korean Cha Bum Kun won the same trophy with German clubs Eintracht Frankfurt in 1980 and Bayer Leverkusen in 1988.

Ono also helped Japan reach the second round of the World Cup, and his club to third place in the 2001/2002 Dutch Eredivisie and the first group stage of the 2002/2003 European Champions League.

In other international friendlies on Wednesday, Hidetoshi Nakata's Italian club Parma drew 2-2 at J-League first-division side Cerezo Osaka while Chievo Verona, also of the Italian Serie A, were beaten 2-1 away at Vegalta Sendai.

Nakamura set to stay

ROME (Kyodo) Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura looks set to stay with Italian Serie A club Reggina next season, an Italian newspaper reported Wednesday.

Nakamura has been linked to Spanish club Atletico Madrid, Serie A rivals Parma and English Premier League side Chelsea but according to the Corriere dello Sport, no formal offers have come in for the 24-year-old former Yokohama F. Marinos star.



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