Fulham's Junichi Inamoto has been named AFC Player of the Month for August following his four goals in the two legs of the Intertoto Cup final victory over Italian Serie A side Bologna.
With Korea Republic's Seol Ki-hyeon netting six times for Anderlecht in the first four matches of the Belgian league, China stars Li Tie and Sun Jihai impressing in the English Premiership with Everton and Manchester City respectively, and Shinji Ono playing a crucial role in Feyenoord's progression to the UEFA Champions League, East Asia's European contingent were the front-runners for the prize.
But it was Japan's 2002 World Cup hero Inamoto that stood out for his headline-grabbing contribution to Fulham's first-ever European silverware.
With the cosmopolitan London side trailing in the first leg to a penalty from former Italy international Giuseppe Signori, Fulham coach Jean Tigana introduced Inamoto in the 60th minute. Less than three minutes later the midfielder equalised with his first goal for Fulham.
Rekindling memories of his World Cup goal against Belgium, 'Ina' won the ball in midfield and took it past two defenders before dispatching it to the right of Bologna goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca. The contest eventually finished 2-2.
After becoming the first Japanese to play in the English Premiership when he replaced Steed Malbranque in the 69th minute of Fulham's 4-1 defeat of Bolton, Inamoto took to the field for the last half-hour of their next game, the 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough.
The 22-year-old had done enough to convince Tigana he warranted a place in the starting 11 and Inamoto got his first start for Fulham in the second leg of the Intertoto final.
Tigana's faith was rewarded when Inamoto played a neat one-two with Facundo Sava to open the scoring after 12 minutes. Inamoto scored his second with a stunning volley 75 seconds after the interval before completing the remarkable hat-trick in the 50th minute.