New Delhi: India finished second behind Japan, who on Tuesday won the inaugural Grassroots Football Award instituted by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in recognition of the developmental projects taken up by national federations.
“This is a huge boost for Indian football,” All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary, Kushal Das, said. “We may not have won the award but to finish second behind Japan is a creditable performance,” he added.
Around 25 members associations submitted their nominations. Three countries – Japan, India and Vietnam – were shortlisted by AFC as the best performing nations. After going through the developmental projects and their progress reports, the AFC executive committee decided in favour of Japan.
AFC, on Tuesday, also awarded India a spot in the Asian Champions League (ACL) after a gap of two years. The spot will go to last season’s I-League runners-up Pune FC.
The Pune side were selected after I-League champions Churchill Brothers failed to produce the necessary licensing documents.
Two AFC Cup slots have been allocated to India with a caveat that should Pune FC fail to qualify for the main round of the AFC Champions League via the playoffs, they take up one slot. Churchill Brothers gets the other.
However, if Pune FC make it to the Champions League, the door will be open for AFC Cup semi-finalists East Bengal, who finished third in the I-League last season.