United Asia: message loud and clear, says AFC chief Shaikh Salman

PANAJI: Asia's stunning rebuff of FIFA on Tuesday was a "loud and clear" message that the continent was united in its determination to defend its interests, Asian Football Confederation chief Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa told Reuters.

Upset at FIFA's last minute disqualification of a Qatari candidate, delegates overwhelmingly voted down the agenda of an extraordinary congress in Goa at which three members of the world governing body's new Council were to be elected.

Shaikh Salman duly declared the congress closed after only 27 minutes, referring watching FIFA President Gianni Infantino to "the strength of opinion in the room".

"The members spoke in one voice and delivered a loud and clear message," Shaikh Salman said in an interview soon afterwards.

"Everyone present here and across the world witnessed that Asia is united."

Shaikh Salman, a member of the Bahraini royal family, was defeated by Infantino in the vote to succeed the disgraced Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in February.

Infantino has since embarked on a campaign of reform aimed at digging the body out of the mire of 16 months of corruption scandals.

The new 36-member FIFA Council, charged with setting the overall strategic direction of world football, replaces the largely discredited Executive Committee.

Asia already have Shaikh Salman on the Council by virtue of his position as a FIFA vice president and three other members from Japan, Malaysia and Kuwait.

Seven candidates had been announced for three additional Asian spots, one of which must go to a woman, bud Qatari Saoud Al-Mohannadi was suddenly disqualified from the contest on Sunday, two days before the vote.

Al-Mohannadi, vice-president of the Qatar Football Association, had cleared the necessary FIFA integrity check but was barred "based on the report of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee".

A FIFA ethics investigator last month recommended Al-Mohannadi be banned from the game for at least two-and-a-halfyears for refusing to cooperate with an inquiry.

Al-Mohannadi denies any wrongdoing.

Disquiet over the lateness of the move, which prevented any new candidates declaring, was the main talking point in the corridors of the congress hotel on the eve of the vote and the mood of the delegates was made clear on Tuesday.

"We shouldn't forget the elected members to the FIFA council are also going to be Asia's representatives," Shaikh Salman Salman added.

"We must ensure that justice is done."

Shaikh Salman and Infantino exchanged momentoes before the agenda vote and the Bahraini is clearly enthusiastic about some of his Swiss former rival's reform agenda.

Infantino made a 40-team World Cup a key part of his campaign before his election in February and recently suggested that broadening the World Cup finals from its current 32 teams could come about in 2026.

Shaikh Salman said if all stakeholders could come to an agreement, an expanded World Cup should be beneficial.

"If all the confederations feel that it can be presented in a positive way, everybody will agree," he said.

"There are lot of concerns whether it's from the professional clubs or from certain national teams, about the players concerned or longer duration of the tournament.

"If we can guarantee that their concerns are met and everybody is happy then why not? It will be beneficial for everyone.

"I think if we can get six spots from the current 4.5 then that would be good. The .5 is not very clear. To have a guaranteed six will be reasonable."

Asia's "half" spot at the World Cup finals comes courtesy of a playoff between the fifth best team in their final qualifying phase and the fourth-placed CONCACAF team.