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Asian Player Of The Year 1998

Japan's first soccer superstar, Hidetoshi Nakata,
 was named Asian Player of the Year on Wednesday 
-- bringing another accolade before he tackles the
 World Cup finals. The 21-year-old Bellmare Hira-
tsuka midfielder beat Iranian duo Khodadad Azizi,
 who won the 1996 award, and Karim Bagheri as well
 as Korean striker Choi Yong Su in the final selection.
 Nakata is the second Japanese after national team 
captain Masami Ihara in 1995 to win the Asian Foot-
ball Confederation award. Nakata has taken over 
from veteran striker Kazuyoshi Miura as the pin-up 
of the J-League -- hounded by screaming young girls 
and outshining the nation's galaxy of baseball and 
sumo stars. But the Bellmare Hiratsuka midfielder 
rarely offers candid views to reporters. The J-League 
commission has chided him for refusing to sign autographs 
for supporters. Now, France 98 will be a chance for Nakata 
to prove if he is really a playmaker of global calibre 
or just an X-generation brat spoiled by media hype. "I 
want to see for myself where I stand in the world," Nakata
 has told one of his few favourite sportswriters. Nakata 
could not be present at the AFC gala dinner because he 
has been stricken by dermatitis and has a rash on his 
face and a high fever. He could also miss Japan's World 
Cup warmup match Sunday against fellow finalists Paraguay.
 Nakata sent a recorded video message saying "I'm sorry 
I can't be there with you tonight but I will try my best
 to live up to this honour at the World Cup in France."