Oceania looks to Asia for World Cup
WELLINGTON — The Oceania region is backing a drive to combine its World Cup play-off path with the larger Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in order to secure five berths at future finals for the regions, New Zealand Football said yesterday.
The AFC is currently allocated four automatic qualifying slots, with the fifth-placed team going into an intercontinental play-off, while Oceania (OFC) has no direct route to the finals, only a separate play-off berth for the regional champions.
Both regions suffered heavy defeats in play-offs for the 2014 World Cup last week, with Oceania champions New Zealand thrashed 9-3 by Mexico over two legs, while Jordan were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Uruguay.
“We certainly see merit in the winner of the Oceania section of qualifying joining the Asian Confederation play-off structure in some way,” New Zealand Football chairperson Frank van Hattum said yesterday.
“It is an Oceania Football-led initiative with [OFC president] David Chung and [general secretary] Tai Nicholas heading discussions, and we are supportive of their good work.
“We see that a path through Asia would be good for the Oceania winner, as it could open up a high-quality match schedule, while also being a better fit for nations in both confederations in terms of the geography and logistics of any play-off structure leading to a World Cup place.”
AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa told reporters earlier this week that the confederation is open to incorporating the half slot from the OFC in some way.
Van Hattum said NZF has been involved in talks with the OFC on the play-off path for several years, and is supportive of the discussions with its Asian counterparts.
New Zealand assumed the mantle as Oceania heavyweights when Australia switched to the AFC in 2006, and they have struggled to garner meaningful high-level competition, which was evident in their build-up ahead of the Mexico clash.
NZF were only able to cobble together matches against two club sides, in Los Angeles and an international friendly against Trinidad and Tobago, immediately prior to the two-legged tie against the Concacaf heavyweights.
Former All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, after he stepped down following the second-leg loss against Mexico, urged NZF and the OFC to continue to lobby for a more meaningful pathway to the finals, and he said he feels Asia is the future.
NZF has shied away from following Australia into the AFC because of the pathways the 11-strong Oceania confederation has into Fifa youth tournaments and the Olympics. Local pundits, however, have suggested that NZF should lobby Fifa to allow the Oceania champions to enter the final round of Asian qualifying, something that Al-Khalifa did not appear to rule out earlier this week.
Any change in the qualification process for future tournaments would require Fifa ratification.