The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) governs the footballing community of Asia and also now includes Australia, but it doesn’t include a number of Asian (or part-Asian) countries, who are part of UEFA. The headquarters are located in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
The AFC was formed in 1954 (believe it or not on the sidelines of a game), by Afghanistan, Burma, Republic of China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea Republic, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore & Vietnam. Six weeks later the AFC was sanctioned by FIFA and welcomed on to its committee.
Unlike UEFA though, the president is not a former footballer, but a man who is now combining a successful background in business with a passion for football. Mohamed bin Hammam is Qatari and he earned the position of AFC President after having a huge impact on football in Qatar.
There is no shortage of potential players in the AFC’s geographical region; the member nations making up more than half the population of the entire world! Just China and India’s populations combined total more than 2.5 billion people.
Due to it’s size and geograpical spread, the confederation is split up into 4 sub-sections; East, West, South & Central and ASEAN.
- The East zone covers the area containing countries such as China and Japan
- the West is nestled in by South-East Europe and North-East Africa, featuring Palestine, Saudi Arabia etc
- the South & Central is the area mainly south of Kazakhstan, such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka
- the ASEAN zone is the countries / islands between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, such as Australia, Thailand and the Philippines
Asain football’s first moment of internatonal pride came in 1912, when Philippine born Paulino Alcantara joined Barcelona and went on to have an unbelievable scoring record of 374 goals from 375 games. He is best remembered for a strike so fierce it made a hole in the net, in an international game against France.
The AFC’s first representative in the FIFA World Cup was Indonesia, in the 3rd event in 1938. Finally in 2002, after almost 50 years of hard work and progress by the AFC, it hosted the FIFA World Cup, in Korea and Japan.
Vision Asia is a unique innovation to help improve the standards of football in Asia. The scheme aims mainly at the nations that fall short of the higher standards and plans to improve football on the pitch, in the admistration area and in the development of sports science. The initiaitive is the brainchild of AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam, proving his long term commitment to the improvement of Asian football, with his ultimate goal being to see an Asian club win the FIFA World Cup.
The AFC runs a four-yearly federation wide competition for the nations, called the Asian Cup, which takes place the year after the FIFA World Cup, giving Asain nations (who reach the finals) 2 years running with a summer tournament and then 2 years off. It began in 1956, with Korea Republic being the first ever winners, as well as being the hosts and champions four years later too. Israel were 2nd place in both of these tournaments (which was a league rather than a cup format back then) and they hosted and won the third one in 1964.
Then came Iran’s turn to conquer, winning the next 3 tournaments (2 of which they hosted). Kuwait won the next one, and then Saudi Arabia and Japan hogged the limelight, winning 3 each of the next 6 tournaments. Finally bringing is up to date, with Iraq winning the tournament in 2007, the first one in the new spot of the year after the World Cup, formally being on the inbetween year, like UEFA’s comparative equivalent; the European Championships.
They also run a competition, designed to help the lesser nations taste some success, called the AFC Challenge Cup. This is a relatively new tournament that takes place every two years, the first of which was in 2006 and was won by Tajikistan, a small country to the north of Afghanistan, which used to be part of the Soviet Union. India hosted and won the tournament in 2008 and are again the hosts in 2010.
For the clubs of the AFC, the primary competition is the AFC Champions League and the secondary tournament is the AFC Cup.
After seeing the success of UEFA’s Champions League, the AFC reciprocated with their own version. The competition is in a similar format, with qualification via national leagues and then a few qualifying rounds to weed it out for the competition proper. The remaining 32 teams go into the group stage, which halves the numbers and then becomes a knockout cup. The winner walks home with not just a Blankety Blank cheque book and pen, but also a nice kitty of $1.5m plus travel subsidies and prize monies collected en route to the final.
The prestigious Champions League began in 2002, having previously been the Asian Club Championship since 1985. They also ran a similar competition for 5 seasons from 1967 but interest waned severely and it was discontinued.
The AFC Cup is the secondary tournament for AFC clubs and is part of Vision Asia’s scheme to help the ‘developing nations’ to improve their standards of football and to help bridge the gaps that exist. The whole concept of competitions like the Champions Leagues are serving to make the big clubs bigger, so this kind of initiative is both good for football and a refreshing change from much of the rest of the world.
The AFC has a women’s leg, which runs a two yearly championship (on World Cup year and the middle year in between), but large parts of central, southern and western Asia do not have participating women’s teams because of cultural and religious reasons.
The women’s confederation began in 1968 as the Asian Ladies Football Confederation, but in 1986 it became an official part of the AFC. In 1975 they began their AFC Women’s Asian Cup (though it was known as the AFC Women’s Championship at the time) and China have been the most successful nation in the competition, winning 7 titles in a row from 1986 to 1999 and in 2006.
AFC Member Nations
United Arab Emirates
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