Publication Date: 
Thu, 2007-11-29 03:00

SYDNEY, Australia, 29 November 2007 — Saudi Arabia’s national soccer team captain Yasser Al-Qahtani won the Asian Player of the Year award yesterday and set his sights on a move to Europe.

Al-Qahtani was the joint leading goalscorer in the Asian Cup, where the Saudis lost the final 1-0 to Iraq in July, and led his Al-Hilal club to the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League.

“I’m very proud winning this award,” he said. “Frankly speaking, I wasn’t representing only myself. I’m representing the Saudi people and all of my teammates.”

The 25-year-old striker edged Iraqi pair Younis Mahmoud and Nashat Akram for the continent’s top individual award.

Mahmoud was the player of the tournament at the Asian Cup, was joint leading scorer with Al-Qahtani, and scored the winning goal in the final. Midfielder Akram was instrumental in Iraq’s run to the deciding match.

“The three of us come from Arab nations who were nominated for this award and that’s an achievement in itself,” Al-Qahtani said.

Al-Qahtani said he has had preliminary discussions with Middlesbrough in the English Premier League, initiated by a phone call from the club’s Egypt striker Ahmed Mido.

“I have no clue what is going to happen next,” he said. “I hope to play in Europe ... it’s a dream.

“I would love, for the benefit of my team, to play in Europe and gain more experience — I would love to go to England or Spain, for sure.”

Asian Champions League winner Urawa Reds of Japan was voted the region’s top club of the year and Iraq won the team of the year award. Iraq has not played a game on home soil in at least four years and has a team of players scattered throughout the Middle East, yet qualified for the semifinals at the Athens 2004 Olympics and made the Asian Games final before winning the Asian Cup.

McLeish Takes Over at

Birmingham City

In London, Birmingham City presented Alex McLeish as manager yesterday then cast doubt on the likelihood of Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung taking control of the Premier League club.

McLeish, 48, resigned as Scotland coach on Tuesday after narrowly missing out on leading the country to next year’s European championship finals. He replaces Steve Bruce who has moved to rivals Wigan Athletic.

“I always had the desire to come to the Premiership and I’d love to be managing in the Premiership for a considerable time,” said McLeish, who signed a 3-1/2-year deal.

Birmingham chairman David Gold told the news conference the takeover board had not allowed the club to offer Bruce an improved deal but there had been no obstacle to offering a new contract to a new manager.

“It is a bit unusual and surprised us,” he said, casting doubt on the ability of Yeung, the club’s biggest shareholder with a 30 percent stake, to take control by a Dec. 20 deadline.

“I started off believing that the takeover bid was 90 percent assured,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago I reduced that down to 75 percent.

“I now believe it is below 50 percent, but only time will tell. What it really says is that the board must actually take charge of the football club fully, we must act as if this takeover doesn’t happen.

“We are assuming now and working on the basis that the deal will not go ahead.” McLeish, a former Aberdeen defender and Rangers manager, can look forward to renewing battle with former Celtic boss Martin O’Neill, in charge at local rivals Aston Villa.

McLeish can also expect to at least double the salary Scotland were paying him, according to British newspaper reports.

Birmingham are 16th in the league with 11 points from 14 matches.

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