Kuala Lumpur, Nov 24: FIFA president Sepp Blatter took a barely concealed swipe at banned Asian football chief Mohamed bin Hammam in a fiery performance at the region's glitzy awards night.
The controversial Swiss seized the spotlight in Kuala Lumpur -- bin Hammam's former stronghold -- as he delivered a forceful endorsement of Asia's new leaders.
Fresh from publicly rebuking Middle Eastern royalty, the short but feisty Blatter strode to the microphone and harangued the massed ranks of delegates about the need to support acting boss Zhang Jilong.
"We have overcome a situation that wasn't so easy to understand, but we did it," Blatter said in the Malaysian capital late on Wednesday, referring to Hammam's ban from football over allegations of bribery.
"Because finally everything in our life is like what happens on the field of play.
"It's discipline, respect, fair play and if you put it into an organisation like the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) then you come to unity, solidarity, democracy, and finally it's a question of trust and confidence.
"FIFA trusts you, we trust the new leadership of the Asian Football Confederation. And a special mention to the acting president, Mr. Zhang Jilong and his team -- they do a great job."
It was a feisty performance at the televised AFC ceremony, and came just months after bin Hammam's fall from grace following his ill-fated challenge for Blatter's FIFA presidency.
The Qatari is now banned from football after being found guilty by FIFA of handing out cash-stuffed envelopes to bribe delegates. He is appealing the ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The unsavoury episode has left Asian football in transition as Hammam cannot be replaced until the middle of next year, under AFC rules, and with a long-term successor yet to come forward.
And one possible candidate, FIFA vice-president Prince Ali bin al Hussein, received short shrift at a press conference earlier on Wednesday when he tried to answer a question on Blatter's behalf.
"Mr. President, may I answer that on your behalf?" Prince Ali politely asked.
"No, I can just answer. I was asked so I will answer. You can add, but I answer," an irritated Blatter told the cowed Jordanian royal.
Blatter's visit was overshadowed by outrage over his comments that racially taunted players should simply shake hands with their abusers, but he shrugged off the furore to deliver a clear message about Asia's importance.
"With two-thirds of the world population it's not only a new market for football... we want football to bring emotions and passions into society," he told the awards show, in a luxury hotel in fast-evolving Kuala Lumpur.
"In Asia you are participating in this wonderful adventure we are going on together... The whole of FIFA has confidence in your organisation. I thank you so much for the trust you have in the leadership."
And he borrowed the AFC's slogan when he said: "The future is Asia, but the present is already Asia. You have demonstrated how strong is the AFC, how strong is the Asian family."