Kuala Lumpur: FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Asia's football leaders were united and moving towards a "fabulous" future Wednesday despite the shock banning of the region's soccer chief over bribery claims.
Blatter, himself no stranger to controversy, praised the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) progress under acting president Zhang Jilong, who took charge after Mohamed bin Hammam's ousting in June.
The Qatari was suspended and later banned from football after being found guilty by FIFA of trying to buy votes in his bid to replace his ally-turned-rival Blatter as the body's president.
"I can only congratulate and commend the Asian Football Confederation, how they have dealt with the problem that has occurred here in this confederation especially by having to replace the president," Blatter told reporters.
"We have now an acting president, we have an executive committee that's working together in solidarity and in unity, and I'm very happy to have been here today."
Blatter was speaking at AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, where he joined an executive committee meeting and will attend Asia's annual football awards ceremony later Wednesday.
But in signs of ongoing internal debate at the body, the press conference was delayed by an hour for extended executive committee talks which also continued after the briefing.
Asian football is in limbo after the banning of bin Hammam, who cannot be replaced until next year under AFC rules and who is appealing his case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Blatter, who refused to comment directly on bin Hammam's case, said he was "looking forward to a fabulous development of football in Asia".
"The future of football still is Asia. Asia is more than two-thirds of the world population now and two-thirds of the world population can see immense potential for football," he said.
"Especially when you look at the subcontinent called India, where you have 1.3 billion people and they are eager to play football.
"Asia is also a big economic market... if you look at all the traditional markets, they are suffering and Asia is doing well."
Caretaker chief Zhang said that Asia was still "moving forward" as it tries to deal with problems including major match-fixing scandals in South Korea and China.
"Our target is the future and the future is Asia, this is what we're saying," he added.