Fernandez named El Pais Footballer of the Year

December 30, 2006

MONTEVIDEO, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Chile midfielder Matias Fernandez has been voted Latin America's Footballer of the Year in a poll conducted by Uruguayan newspaper El Pais.

The 20-year-old Fernandez topped the poll after his electrifying performances helped Colo Colo to reach the final of the Copa Sudamericana - the region's equivalent of the UEFA Cup - and win both championships played in the 2006 season in Chile.

Fernandez, who this month joined Spanish club Villareal, was followed by Boca Juniors and Argentina pair Rodrigo Palacio in second place and Fernando Gago in third.

Sao Paulo captain Rogerio Ceni, who this year became the highest-scoring goalkeeper in football history, was fourth after leading his side to the Brazilian championship title.

Colo Colo's Claudio Borghi was named as the coach of the year, followed by Alfio Basile, who left Boca Juniors to take over the Argentine national side in September, and Internacional's Abel Braga, who won the South American Libertadores Cup and Club World titles with the Brazilian side.

The award, the most respected in the region, has been given every year since 1986 and is based on a poll of some 400 journalists. Players and coaches have to be based in Latin America for at least part of the year to be eligible.

Previous winners include Brazil's Romario and Cafu and Colombia's Carlos Valderrama. Argentina forward Carlos Tevez won the award in the previous three years.