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Yokohama: Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has hailed Asia’s teams and players for their remarkable achievements in 2016, which culminated in Kashima Antlers becoming the first-ever Asian club to appear in the FIFA Club World Cup Final on Sunday.

Kashima Antlers produced one of the finest displays ever by an Asian club side, matching European Champions Real Madrid both technically and tactically to force the tie into extra time in Yokohama. Kashima proved worthy challengers for the title against a world class side before finally losing 4-2 thanks to an inspired a hat trick from 2016 Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

The AFC President said: “There is no doubt that 2016 will be remembered as a year when the AFC made significant progress on the world stage.

“I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Kashima Antlers for battling bravely against Real Madrid in the final and showing immense resolve and fighting spirit throughout the competition.

“My special appreciation also goes to the Japan Football Association for staging an exceptional FIFA Club World Cup tournament. The success of Kashima exemplifies the progress of football development in both Japan and Asia as well as the dedication and hard work undertaken by the Japan Football Association.”

The AFC President added: “I must also praise all the other AFC teams and players who have performed admirably and done Asia proud this year.

“The world has witnessed our world-class achievements this year, as Asian teams progressed to three FIFA competition finals, with two World Cup victories. Our performances have reinforced the message: this is Asia’s time to shine.”

In the women’s game, the final of the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup Jordan 2016 marked a significant milestone in Asian football, with the competition host, match officials and both finalists - eventual winners DPR Korea and runners-up Japan - all representing the AFC. DPR Korea showcased their global dominance once again, clinching the FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea earlier this month.

Earlier this year, Islamic Republic of Iran became the first-ever Asian side to finish third in the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia and, registering impressive victories over traditional powerhouses Portugal and defending champions Brazil.

The AFC President added: “In every way, the success of 2016 is a tribute to hard work, commitment and spirit of unity in all our Member Associations, by our commercial partners, the leagues, the clubs as well as to the millions of passionate fans across the continent.

“As we prepare for yet another thrilling year, I am confident that the Asian teams will strive, under the banner of One Asia, One Goal, towards greater achievements on the biggest stages in 2017.”

The global football spotlight will continue to shine on Asia in 2017 as Korea Republic and India prepare to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May and the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October respectively. The FIFA Club World Cup will continue to be hosted in the continent, with the next two editions taking place in the United Arab Emirates.

Photo: FIFA/Getty Images