Saturday, December 09, 2006

 

The Word from Zurich, Part 2

FIFA’s recent declaration of the World Cup allocations for 2010 contains one particularly interesting feature, which is mentioned almost as an aside, but is in fact a significant departure from past practice.

The preliminary competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ will be played in the confederations as follows:

- Oceania: in three phases, as for 2006. The first phase will be combined with the South Pacific Games 2007 and the OFC Nations Cup 2008, and the winning team will enter a group in Asia's final round.

Whoa, whoa…what’s that?

Cross-confederation qualifiers before the final two-leg playoffs? FIFA has refused to countenance this in the recent past.

The ideal solution to the bickering over the four playoff “halves” in the previous cycle would have been to stage a “repechage”-style playoff on neutral territory, but FIFA wasn’t interested. Now, we will have an Oceania interloper taking part in a group stage of the AFC qualifiers.

The good news is that it would appear to be the first step towards a full Asia-Oceania merger. Hearty applause from me, since that ridiculous excrescence known as the Oceania confederation no longer has the slightest reason to exist.

And perhaps, just perhaps, we now have a partial answer to that still puzzling question of why the Asians were prepared to admit Australia into their confederation, when those big boys from down under were so likely to do their traditional glamour teams out of a World Cup spot.

Could it be that an agreement was struck with FIFA to make sure the Oceania cannon fodder would be grouped with Asia, rather than the other “half-spot” confederations (South America and CONCACAF)? That way, the Asians may have felt that they were guaranteed five places, even if one of them might henceforth go to Australia.

Now that’s pure speculation on my part, but the ease with which Australia entered the AFC is still a significant head-scratcher as far as I’m concerned. We have assuredly not heard the whole story of those negotiations.

In the meantime, the Kiwis will be quietly chortling, given that they now have the chance (assuming they knock over the Pacific minnows) to take part in a proper World Cup qualifying series. Such an opportunity was never vouchsafed Australia during our Oceania days.

In the next exciting episode: sundry other talking points arising from the FIFA press release, including the latest in the ongoing Jack Warner saga. Stay tuned.


Comments:
I would think that the extra spot was why the deal was done. But who are we to complain? Or NZ for that matter
 
...I would think that the extra spot was why the deal was done....

They (the AFC) had 4.5 before and they still have 4.5; the only advantage they now have is that their "half" will be contesting a spot with an Oceania nation (bound to be weaker than the stragglers from with South America or CONCACAF).

Perhaps I'm reading too much into things; after all, the World Cup isn't the be-all and end-all. But even in other respects, it really is hard to see what they get from our inclusion. A move towards toughening up Asian sides in preparation for European opposition, maybe? I seem to recall bin Hammam saying something of the sort recently.
 
At least we'll probably have a few more meaningful encounters between AUS and NZ in the future. Perhaps eradicating any possible thoughts of staging regular friendlies between the two countries - nothing to gain for us there.

Yay for the Solomons, Fiji and so forth as well - a bit of hope for the future. I wonder how, say, Japan would fare during an away match in Honiara during the peak of southern hemisphere summer?
 
I'm curious James... what would be the problem between more-or-less regular friendlies between Australia and New Zealand? That particular derby is so successful in other football leagues I would have thought it could only be good for the game in both countries.

Of course it would inevitably be Australia's 'A League B-team' that would be fielded, but it would be a hard-fought contest and would probably attract a good crowd as well.

International games held in London are fine, but don't give the local fans an opportunity to support much.

Right off topic, Papua New Guinea has a proud Football Association. A team from there would give the A-League a bit of diversity.
 
Mikey, as you've pointed out they don't gain/lose their WCposition with Australia. Assuming that last spot is a gimmee (NZ might have something to say.)

They gain competent opposition and another developed AFC tournament drawcard, someone to fly the AFC flag at the World Cup, all our referees and "technical expertise" Hamann was talking about. So all they really lose in the bargain is having to put up with us.
 
So the playoff could end up being Asia vs Asia? With Oceania's winner either missing out or, at the other end of the spectrum, qualifying for the WC "fully" without a play-off at all.

...or perhaps I'm misunderstanding it?

I don't think you're reading too much into this; WC spots are important in financial terms and the timing is too convenient to be mere coincidence.
 
...So the playoff could end up being Asia vs Asia? With Oceania's winner either missing out or, at the other end of the spectrum, qualifying for the WC "fully" without a play-off at all.

...or perhaps I'm misunderstanding it?...

No, you're right (to the best of my understanding).

With all respect to the Kiwis, I can't see them getting through a tough Asian qualifying group (incidentally, one thing that the FIFA press release doesn't mention is the system by which the Asian qualifiers will be conducted).

In any case, as I mentioned in Part 3, CONCACAF will not be happy chappies about this particular result. I still get the very strong impression that allowing a CONCACAF playoff with South America (which they would never have wanted) might just have been the price Jack Warner had to pay for being cleared of yet another piece of skullduggery.

But, once again, perhaps I'm reading too much into it. ;-)
 
Well in order to give Africa a stronger presence, one confederation had to make a sacrifice. Concacaf was the only logical choice IMO. They couldn't do it to Asia, not after we made the Round of 16. Warner's scandal is very handy in that respect. I don't know if it was as clearcut as saying "we won't be too hard on you but Concacaf are going to lose 0.5 in exchange" But it's certainly hard for him to make a big fuss about the decision when he knows he's lucky to have his job.

The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that this is the first step to an official merger between Asia and Oceania. Otherwise, why wouldn't you just dump the Oceania winner in at the last hurdle? Perhaps the idea is a future split between Western and Eastern Asia with Oceania then merging into the newly formed East Asian Confederation. Australia's acceptance was the first step, giving NZ a taste of Asian competition was the next etc. etc. The AFC is certainly getting unwieldy.


Anyway, your analysis is interesting. It really contrasts with some of the articles I've read, which took the change at face value and said "New Zealand is getting an easier route than we are now".
 
...Anyway, your analysis is interesting. It really contrasts with some of the articles I've read, which took the change at face value and said "New Zealand is getting an easier route than we are now"....

Well, in a way they are. Fighting through Oceania for a place in the final Asian groups will be much easier than doing it through the initial Asian groups if the AFC uses the same system as last time.

But, significantly, the FIFA press release made a point of saying that the Asians (along with CONCACAF and Europe) would be in groups yet to be determined, which seems to indicate that they might be prepared to rethink that first-past-the-post first phase which was such a deathtrap last time.
 
Aye you'd think they would after the China 'disaster' ;)
 
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