Was Australia snubbed at the AFC awards?

by Ben Somerford on Nov 24, 2011

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When the final shortlist for the AFC Player of the Year awards were announced recently, there were more than a few murmuring that Australia had been snubbed. After all, the Socceroos reached the final of the 2011 Asian Cup. Surely that means something?

And the reality is there have been two previous shortlists of 10 players released in the past few months, where no Australians were ever included. That's certainly a bit odd, considering the Socceroos' Asian Cup achievements and World Cup qualifying progress.

However, before making such allegations, it's important to pause for just a moment and consider which Australian players would have been worthy of such a nomination.

Ignoring the curious criteria for the award, whereby domestic league form is disregarded and only performances in AFC competitions such as the Asian Champions League, World Cup qualifiers, Asian Cup and AFC Cup are credited, it's worthwhile pondering realistically if any Aussies deserve to make the top six, alongside the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Koo Ja-Cheol.

We'll start with the big stars of the Australian team; Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell, Lucas Neill and Mark Schwarzer.

Cahill has hardly had a great 2011, having not scored for Everton all year. Yes, he started the 2010-11 season on fire in the Premier League but since aggravating a foot injury at the Asian Cup – where he scored two goals; both against India – he hasn't been at his best.

His decision to play through pain has hardly helped, but it's meant he's been restricted in his national team duties for Australia, only playing for the Socceroos twice during 2014 World Cup qualifying. If you recall, they were hardly great performances too; one in a confused role alongside Joshua Kennedy in a 2-1 win over Thailand and the other as an 87th-minute sub in the following game against Saudi Arabia, where Holger Osieck had dropped him to the bench after his poor showing against the War Elephants.

So Cahill as a candidate, I don't think so.

Kewell, however, had a fine Asian Cup, where he proved a lot of critics wrong. The former Leeds man scored the extra-time winner against Iraq in the quarters and a fine opener in the semi-final rout of Uzbekistan. He may have been the hero too, had he not fired at Eiji Kawashima's legs in the final.

However, like Cahill, Kewell has done little else since the January tournament, with injury and his club situation getting in the way. Kewell has only managed one appearance in the green and gold in World Cup qualifying, that being last week's poor showing against Oman. So Kewell, is a no too.

Then there's Neill and Schwarzer who were arguably Australia's best two players at the Asian Cup, where the Socceroos only conceded two goals all tournament. Schwarzer was arguably the keeper of the Asian Cup. That's certainly got to be worth something.

And Neill has played every minute of Australia's 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign so far, with Schwarzer playing four of the five games, as the Socceroos have been typically solid defensively on their way to the next round. More than anything, Australia's organisation and mental strength, exemplified by none moreso than these two, has been the cornerstone of the team's success.

Schwarzer has been consistent and solid at Fulham too, while Neill was one of Galatasaray's better players in a poor campaign last term. These two certainly could be worthy of at least making a shortlist.

There's others too, including Matt McKay who was a revelation at the Asian Cup and helped Brisbane Roar to the A-League title. He's been an ever-present in the green and gold in 2011, becoming an integral member of the starting line-up.

Nagoya Grampus striker Joshua Kennedy is another who probably deserves some kudos, after guiding his club to the J-League title last term as the league's equal topscorer, he's once again top of the charts with his club battling it out for the Japanese crown in 2011. Kennedy's form for Australia has been super in 2011 too, with four goals in World Cup qualifying, however it shouldn't be forgotten that he missed the Asian Cup due to injury.

With all that in mind, there's certainly a case for a few Aussies, which leaves you scratching your head a little bit. But then again, nobody was overly outstanding and considering Seongnam Ilhwa's Aussie Sasa Ognenovski won the honour last season, there might have been a decision to err towards sharing the honours around the nations.

I hope that's not the case, because credit needs to be given where credit is due.

Then again, maybe it's just another mark against the flawed criteria of one of world's football oddest awards.