The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) have started talks over combining their FIFA World Cup qualifying slots with a view to improving representation at the tournament following a chastening month of inter-continental qualifiers.
Asia has four automatic slots at present with Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia securing their places for next summer’s finals in Brazil, while the top team in Oceania is forced into a play-off. OFC representative New Zealand was thrashed 9-3 on aggregate over two legs against Mexico earlier this month. Jordan took Asia’s play-off place and a 5-0 home defeat in the first –leg of its tie against South American giant Uruguay thoroughly justified its underdog status. Since Australia’s move to the AFC in 2006, Asia has had four-and-a-half slots and the Confederation’s president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa is keen on incorporating OFC’s half-slot into a collective agreement.
“We had the Australians in but I think we should look at how we can combine our slots together,” the Bahraini told Reuters when asked if he wanted New Zealand to join the AFC. “This is something that we are discussing with Oceania and hopefully there will be something on how those legs are to be played. Because geographically we are much closer.” Any collaboration would require the approval of FIFA, whose president Sepp Blatter might be receptive having suggested earlier this month that he wants to scrap the play-off system and address the possibility of greater representation for Asian and African nations.
Meanwhile, at its Confederation meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the AFC announced a revamped structure for its Champions League that will keep West and East Asian teams apart until the semi-final stage. Australia gain a second automatic qualifying spot, while a team apiece from India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam will enter an expanded play-off phase. “This is part of the reform that we’ve talked about, the changes we want to create,” said Sheikh Salman, according to the AFP agency. “Hopefully when 2015 comes, we can look back and say we made a difference, we made a change for the good.” Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia all get four qualifying spots; with China allocated three and a play-off place for the tournament, which will continue to be decided by a two-legged final for the next three years.