Football: Both Asians miss out but AFC will back Infantino

Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al-Khalifa (left) congratulating Gianni Infantino after the Swiss was elected as the new Fifa president.
Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al-Khalifa (left) congratulating Gianni Infantino after the Swiss was elected as the new Fifa president. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • Asian football said it was looking forward to working with new Fifa president Gianni Infantino, despite the region's two candidates losing out to the Swiss in Friday's election.

Infantino beat Asian candidates Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Jordan's Prince Ali Al-Hussein, as well as Frenchman Jerome Champagne, to succeed Sepp Blatter in the vote at Fifa's Congress in Zurich.

As Asia rued yet another squandered chance to help elect their first Fifa president after their two candidates failed to cooperate, Sheikh Salman, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), called for unity to help move the reform process forward.

"The AFC looks forward to working with the new-look Fifa and its new president Gianni Infantino in order to reform the world football governing body and to reinstate football's credibility globally," Sheikh Salman, who warmly embraced Swiss-Italian Infantino after the election result, said.

"The new Fifa needs to become more inclusive and reflect the diversity of world football.

"I trust Gianni Infantino will provide the leadership to achieve this, as well as the rest of the reforms that are now urgently needed."

His defeat is a blow to the ambitions of Asia and especially the Arab world, where there had been anticipation of a powerful new voice in sport. Prince Ali lost to Blatter in last May's presidential election.

The AFC has been a staunch supporter of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, whose controversial bidding process was at the heart of the crisis which engulfed Fifa.

Sheikh Salman enjoyed strong backing among the Asian voters, including the 10-member East Asian Football Federation which confirmed its support just before the election. The East Asian bloc includes powerhouse China, which aspires to host and even win a World Cup and has been splashing out on top players for the Chinese Super League.

But Infantino's victory could yet provide a boost for Asia.

Asia, Africa, Oceania and Concacaf - the region for North and Central America and the Caribbean - have long demanded more World Cup places. Infantino has promised to expand football's greatest showpiece from 32 teams to 40 teams.

At present, Asia has 4.5 places - four direct slots and an inter-confederation play-off slot.

Infantino has also pledged that Fifa's new secretary-general would not be from Europe, in a possible sign of hope for Asia.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Both Asians miss out but AFC will back Infantino'. Print Edition | Subscribe