Blatter: Asian FAs must develop "own programs"

FIFA president Sepp Blatter believes Asia's football governing bodies must come up with their own programs to develop the game. "FIFA is always ready to help, but initiatives must come from national associations to improve," he said at a press conference with Asian Football Confederation president, Mohammad Bin Hammam, at the start of their visit to Bangladesh. "Local football federations need to develop their own programs -- step by step," he said, as quoted by AP, adding that football's world governing body, FIFA, as well as the AFC, is already offering assistance under various projects including the Goal Program and Vision Asia.

Blatter formally inaugurated the Bangladesh Football Federation's new headquarters, built with FIFA assistance, in downtown Dhaka on Saturday. He also donated money from a FIFA tsunami fund to build soccer training centers in the coastal areas of Cox's Bazar and Barisal. The fund was set up to help tsunami-hit Asian nations.

Later he and Hammam inaugurated the AFC Challenge Cup, which features 16 emerging Asian football nations, Afghanistan, Taiwan, the Philippines, India, Guam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Palestine, Brunei, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Macau, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. "I foresee the Challenge Cup having lots of success," he said. (Photo left: Palestine beats the Pacific island of Guam, 11-0 on the opening day).

Asked how the five Asian teams in the 2006 World Cup finals will perform, Blatter quipped they will "show us just what has happened here in Asia ... I'm sure at this World Cup there will be no teams flying easily through to the final." He further suggested that Asian teams may find it tougher in Germany than Korea and Japan in 2002 because European leagues are finishing early to allow their national teams more time to prepare.

"Don't forget, the visiting teams, especially those from Europe, came tired because the leagues were delayed and they played 10 days before the start of the World Cup," he said as quoted by Reuters. "This time we stop leagues on 15 May and now they have time to relax and prepare." Asia's representatives at the World Cup will be Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and AFC newcomer, Australia.