Classy Khribin in pole position to land Asian football’s top prize

Special Classy Khribin in pole position to land Asian football’s top prize
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Al-Hilal striker Omar Khribin could be celebrating more than a goal later this year if he’s named the Asian Player of the Year. (Reuters)
Special Classy Khribin in pole position to land Asian football’s top prize
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Updated 25 October 2017
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Classy Khribin in pole position to land Asian football’s top prize

Classy Khribin in pole position to land Asian football’s top prize

DUBAI: Eleven months ago, UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman climbed the podium at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace to lift the 2016 Asian Player of the Year award. The frizzy haired playmaker had delivered outstanding performances in the AFC Champions League, leading his Al-Ain side to the final and earning the competition’s Most Valuable Player title.
Fast forward to today, Abdulrahman’s fortunes have dwindled as Al-Ain struggled in the league and bowed out at the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal. The 3-0 aggregate victory for the Riyadh-based giants signaled the passing of the mantle from one Omar to another.
As Al Hilal continued their march toward the Champions League final, 23-year-old Omar Khribin was at the heart of their attacking endeavours. The Syrian international netted five times over the two semifinal fixtures against Iran’s Persepolis to move level with Shanghai SIPG’s Hulk at the top of the competition’s goal-scoring charts with nine goals. Unlike the Brazilian, whose side were knocked out in the semifinals, Khribin still has the opportunity to seal the top scorer’s award with the two-legged final against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds coming up in November.
By the time Al-Hilal emerge from the battle for the Asian crown, the annual AFC awards will be fast approaching and Khribin will be confident of a place on the podium. China’s Wu Lei finished third last year and was once again a crucial cog in Shanghai SIPG’s Champions League campaign, but failure to lift the Chinese Super League title and a mediocre World Cup qualification campaign for China will hinder the 25-year-old’s hopes of making the shortlist this year.
Iraq’s Air Force Club have reached the AFC Cup final for a second year running, but last season’s top goal scorer, Hammadi Ahmed, has been far from his usual prolific self and is unlikely to be anywhere near the three-man shortlist this year, having finished second last time out.
Air Force's opponents in the final are Tajikistan’s Istiklol, who bounced back from a disappointing group stage exit last year to reach their second final in three years. Winger Manuchekhr Dzhalilov stands out for them and could be in with a chance, especially if they overcome the Iraqis to lift the trophy.
Where Khribin sets himself apart is on the international front. The forward spearheaded the attack for an impressive Syrian national team that came within a whisker of booking an unlikely place at the World Cup. Only the post prevented Omar Al-Somah from nestling in a free-kick and knocking Australia out of the Asian playoff match.
Khribin contributed 10 goals throughout the qualifiers at a time when the likes of Al-Somah and Firas Al-Khatib were left out of the squad for political reasons until the final stages. On the domestic front, Khribin joined Al-Hilal in January, on loan from UAE side Al-Dhafra. He scored seven times in the remaining half of the 2016/17 season to help the Saudi side to a 14th league title. His goal-scoring exploits in Riyadh convinced the Saudi champions to pay out his $5 million release clause to land him permanently and he rewarded them with a rich vein of form in Asia this campaign.
We may be over a month away from the awards ceremony in Bangkok, but it is hard to look beyond Khribin for the AFC Player of the Year. And should the Syrian indeed win the award, he will make history as the first Syrian to be named Asia’s best.
“It does not make up for failing to win the AFC Champions League”, commented last year’s winner Omar Abdulrahman (pictured), reflecting on the bittersweet taste of being named Asia’s finest just days after losing the grand finale of the continent’s biggest club competition.
Khribin will be eager to avoid a similar experience as his Al-Hilal side hope to book their spot at the FIFA Club World Cup in December.