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Manama: Asian Football Confederation President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has stressed the need for continued unity and solidarity if the Asian game is to progress even further in the coming years.

Shaikh Salman’s statement came at Thursday’s 26th AFC Ordinary Congress in the Bahraini capital of Manama during which he was re-elected by acclamation for a four-year term which will run until 2019.

While thanking the assembled representatives from the AFC’s Member Associations for the faith they had shown in him to continue his leadership of the confederation, Shaikh Salman reiterated two key themes that have been omnipresent throughout the Congress - unity and solidarity.

“Let us stick together for together we are strong,” Shaikh Salman said referring to the unity being built throughout Asian football.

“I have initiated regular meetings of Member Associations, and regular circular letters updating Member Associations of the AFC’s activities.  We move forward together through dialogue, not conflict.  We are closer than ever.

“We may not always agree, after all, we are 47 members in a very diverse continent.  But, like a football team with many different players, together we are strong,” he added.

Turning to the notion of solidarity, the AFC President remarked: “How have we turned a word – solidarity – into practice? 

“Solidarity in practice means that the AFC Champions League is now, as of this year, open to clubs from 24 member associations, not just the elite 10 or 11.

“Solidarity in practice means that the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and AFC Asian Cup qualifiers are now more inclusive than ever.  The team formerly at the bottom of the FIFA world ranking, Bhutan, has worked hard and made it through to now play with the likes of China – they are now included, not excluded. 

“Solidarity in practice means that now twenty-four teams, instead of sixteen, will be able to compete at the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.  Eight new associations can now experience the final tournament, and the development boost that goes with it.

“Solidarity in practice means that the AFC Financial Assistance Programme, or AFAP, will now be more flexible, allowing more associations to benefit directly.

“Solidarity is the fact that we are all in this together.  Large or small, rich or poor: we are a team.”

Shaikh Salman concluded by declaring that while many things have been achieved in the first two years of his stewardship, much more has still to be done as Asian football looks to scale even greater heights.

“Looking back, we have achieved a huge amount, together, in the last two years – in competitions, in development, in governance, in many areas.  But we cannot be complacent, we need to consolidate and do more,” he explained.

“I look forward to working with the new Executive Committee, and with all the Member Associations, to help Asian football reach its potential both here and on the world stage.  Together we will do it.”