Kanoute wins Africa's top soccer award

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Lome (Togo), Feb 2: Mali and Sevilla forward Frederic Kanoute was named Africa player of 2007 on Friday, beating Chelsea clubmates Michael Essien and Didier Drogba to become the first European-born player to earn the honour.

Nigeria's Cynthia Uwak was chosen as the best women's player ahead of South Africa's Modise Portia. Kanoute was chosen after he helped Mali qualify for the ongoing African Cup of Nations. Mali has already been eliminated in group play. The 30-year old Kanoute was born in France to Malian parents.

"I dedicate this to my family, who could not be here and to the people of Mali," Kanoute said. "I believe that sport can be used as a tool for development in Africa."

Drogba beat three-time winner Samuel Eto'o of FC Barcelona to win the 2006 award .

The timing of the awards has come under criticism because of the African championship. Ghana coach Claude LeRoy refused Essien permission to travel to Lome, which is a three-hour drive from the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

On Sunday, Ghana plays Nigeria in the quarter-finals, and Guinea meets Ivory Coast. On Monday, defending champion Egypt takes on Angola and four-time winner Cameroon plays Tunisia.

The player awards are run by the Confederation of African Football with voting conducted by national coaches from 53 African countries

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