KARACHI, Nov 26: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) won the inaugural AFC ‘Aspiring’ Member Association of the Year award at the Asian Football Confederation annual awards ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

“It’s a great honour, a great achievement,” PFF’s marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider told Dawn on Tuesday. “It reflects the work done in promoting the game in the country by the PFF.”

With the AFC introducing member association awards in three different categories, as opposed to one in previous years, Pakistan took the award in the ‘Aspiring’ category for the continent’s emerging countries — ahead of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, DPR Korea, Guam, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Nepal, Palestine, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

The award was presented to PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat at the gala ceremony in recognition of the body’s professional administration in contributing to the development of football in the country.

Also taken into context were the association’s activities as the organisation of courses and seminars, competitions, grassroots and youth development, social responsibility and special projects.

“This award reflects the good work going on back home. The real winners are the thousands of boys and girls who play football and several coaches, referees and officials who work tirelessly throughout the year,” Faisal said after receiving the award.

The performances of the country’s national teams and clubs in AFC competitions were taken into account.

Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) were losing finalists in the AFC President’s Cup — Asia’s third-tier club competition — earlier this year.

In doing that, they became the first team from the country to reach the showpiece of an Asian event.

“At that time I’d said that our achievement was for Pakistan,” KRL head-coach Tariq Lutfi told Dawn on Tuesday. “And it is fitting that our successful run in the President’s Cup contributed to Pakistan being awarded.”

Like KRL, the success of Guangzhou Evergrande — winners of the AFC Champions League — helped the Chinese Football Association (CFA) take the ‘Inspiring’ Member Association of the Year award and their captain Zheng Zhi was named the continent’s Player of the Year.

Guangzhou Evergrande also won the AFC Club of the Year award. They became the first Chinese team since 1990 to win the Champions League; the continent’s flagship club tournament.

Similarly, the success of the Jordan national team, who reached the intercontinental World Cup playoff match before subsequently losing it to Uruguay, helped Jordan bag the ‘Developing’ Member Association of the Year award.

Since being first held in 1994, the AFC annual awards have come a long way and are now Asian football’s biggest and most highly anticipated annual event to recognise and honour the best talents in the continent.

In another boost for Pakistan football, the AFC Executive Committee, which met earlier on Tuesday in the Malaysian capital, decided to scrap the President’s Cup from 2015.

This means Pakistan’s domestic champions will now get a playoff slot from next year in the AFC Cup— Asia’s second-tier club competition.

This season’s winners will take part in the final edition of the President’s Cup with an added bonus. If they manage to get through the first qualifying round, they will earn a playoff berth in the AFC Cup.

“A higher level of competition will help our players get good exposure,” Lutfi said. “With the incentive of playing in the AFC Cup, the PPFL will also improve.”

The change in the AFC’s club structure comes with Asia’s football governing body expanding the Champions League by opening entries for teams outside its ‘mature’ nations.

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