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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

Nakazawa, Endo in Asian player of year contention

SHANGHAI (AP) Yuji Nakazawa and Yasuhito Endo are among the leading contenders for Asian Football Confederation player of the year honors being awarded Tuesday night in Shanghai.

Uzbek veteran Server Djeparov, Sebastian Soria of Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates' Ismael Matar round out the list of nominees, with host China continuing a seven-year drought in player nominations amid continuing turmoil in the country's domestic league and national program.

Fan Zhiyi was the last Chinese player to receive the award, in 2001.

Versatile midfielder Endo was instrumental in propelling Gamba Osaka to victory in this year's AFC Champions League, winning player of the tournament in the process. The 28-year-old has been key to Japan's World Cup qualifying campaign, scoring this year in qualifiers against Thailand, Oman and Bahrain.

Nakazawa was a member of the Japanese national team that won the 2000 and 2004 AFC Asian Cups and scored in June's 3-0 win over Thailand to help Japan advance to the last round of continental qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

The only defender to make the list, the 30-year-old was Japanese professional soccer's MVP in 2004, the same year he helped Yokohama F. Marinos to back-to-back J. League titles.

If successful, Nakazawa, who briefly retired from international play following the 2006 World Cup, would be the second player from the Yokohama side to win the continental honor following Masami Ihara in 1995.

Uruguay-born Soria, 25, scored to give a brief lift to Qatar's World Cup hopes in September's 1-1 draw against Bahrain, while Ismael Matar, 25, has been a consistent force up front for UAE side Al Wahda.

Midfielder Djeparov helped take Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor to the AFC Champions League semifinals.

Osaka Gamba is highly favored to win Asian team of the year, with coach Akira Nishino in contention for coach of the year alongside Adelaide's Aurelio Vidmar, who took the Australian club to the Champions League final.

Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia are nominated for the AFC's national team of the year award.

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