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By ESPN Staff

Kanoute named African Player of the Year

LOME, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Mali striker Frederic Kanoute won the 2007 African Footballer of the Year award on Friday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced.

The Sevilla forward is the first European-born player to win the award after beating off competition from Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba and Michael Essien of Ghana.

Kanoute was nominated for his role in helping Mali qualify for this year's African Nations Cup finals and triumphs last season with Spanish club Sevilla in the UEFA and King's Cups.

The African Footballer of the Year award is voted for by the national coaches of the 53 CAF associations.

Kanoute played for his native France as a junior international before switching allegiance in 2004 to Mali, his father's country.

He is the first Malian to win the award since Salif Keita took the inaugural title in 1970.

The honour came three days after Mali were eliminated from the African Nations Cup finals in Ghana with Kanoute injured in their last game against the Ivory Coast on Tuesday.

Drogba had been nominated mainly on the strength of his form in the English league and European competition.

His goals kept Chelsea in the Premier League title race last season and also helped them lift the FA Cup, with the Ivorian scoring the only goal of the final against Manchester United at Wembley.

The timing of this year's ceremony drew criticism with Essien refused permission by Ghana to travel the short distance to neighbouring Togo for the ceremony.

On Sunday Ghana play Nigeria in a quarter-final in Accra and Drogba will lead the Ivorians against Guinea in Sekondi.

Other awards were given to the Ivory Coast as the African team of the year and Champions League winners Etoile Sahel of Tunisia as the club of the year.

Etoile Sahel striker Armine Chermiti was named the best African club competition player and Zambian Clifford Mulenga Young African Player of the Year.