MANAMA: Asia’s football confederation is a healthier, more united organisation now than at any time in history, its congress was told in Manama, Bahrain, writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa, re-elected unopposed until 2019 as president, told delegates from 47 member associations of his satisfaction at progress since his initial election in 2013.

However further hard work and expansion was necessary, both on and off the pitch.

Bahraini Sheikh Salman said: “My mission has been to engender unity among member associations. I ┬ábelieve that in the last two years we have achieved a unity not seen before in Asian football. We are closer than at any other time in our history.

“We have achieved a lot in a short space of time but there is much more to do . . . it is not easy to take over a confederation in the midst of turbulence and to stabilise it.”

Coaching ambition

Sheikh Salman praised the organisers of the World Cup in Brazil last year but fretted that Asian teams “did not succeed.” He added: “This experience made me think how can we close the gap with the rest of the world – ┬áthat is the question we need to answer.”

None of Asia’s four national teams progressed beyond the opening, group stage.

Raising standards on and off the pitch was the key, said Sheikh Salman, making a specific point of welcoming the appointment of ex-Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh as AFC technical director “with the ambition of improving the quality of coaching across the region to develop quality players.

“The vision is for an Asia from which our top teams and players regularly compete at the top level.”

Sheikh Salman also stressed the importance of the AFC remaining united in support of member associations confronting particular issues of their own – such as Palestine and Qatar.

He said: “It is important, in raising standards, to resist political interference in member associations and to stand up for our members, like Palestine, who need our support in the global arena.

“Also, to stand up for Qatar for their credentials and legitimacy to stage the World Cup 2022.”

Palestine’s football federation wants FIFA to suspend Israel from membership of the world federation in the ongoing dispute over freedom of movement of athletes and sporting materials.

Sheikh Salman suggested that the rest of the world did not appreciate some of the challenges confronting members – “such as the oppressive situation facing our brothers and sisters in the Palestinian football community.”

He reassured them: “We will be there to support you not only in words but in deeds.”

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