YOKOHAMA – Yoshito Okubo was named the Asian Football Confederation’s Young Player of the Year on Wednesday but his award was overshadowed by the hotheaded striker’s sending off in Japan’s 0-0 draw with South Korea at home while the award ceremony was taking place in Malaysia.
Okubo was named Asia’s top young player at the annual ceremony in Kuala Lumpur after scoring 16 goals in the J. League first-division for Cerezo Osaka and earning himself a place in the senior national side this year.
The award, however, turned out to be of little comfort to the 21-year-old, whose second yellow card and subsequent sending off for diving in the 18th minute of Japan’s match against its bitter Asian rivals arguably cost it the East Asian Football Championship title.
Okubo was the shining light for Cerezo, his eight goals in 15 games propelling the side promoted from the second division to a fifth-place finish in the first stage of the J. League.
Although Cerezo failed to maintain that level, ultimately finishing 12th in the second stage, Okubo continued his fine goal-scoring form by adding another eight to his personal tally.
After scoring for Japan’s Olympic team in its 8-0 aggregate win over Myanmar, Okubo was drafted into the senior squad by coach Zico for the Confederations Cup in France in June, where he played in all Japan’s games.
In 2002, he starred for the Under-20 team which finished runnerup to South Korea in the AFC Under-20 Championship in Qatar and the Asian Games squad which returned from Pusan with the silver medal.
However his fiery temper also saw him receive 14 yellow cards, two red cards and six suspensions this season in the J. League.
Japan coach Zico, however, was quick to run to the defense of Okubo.
“It’s outrageous that referees are so quick to dish out yellow cards to players who go down in the box these days,” the Brazilian said.
“Even the faintest touch can cause a player to lose his balance so where do you draw the line (between a foul and simulation). The red card cost us the game,” he said.
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