This is the first of three articles relating to soccer in Australia. This article will address aspects of World Cup qualification, in particular, in relation to Australia’s recent failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. The second will address the management of the Australian soccer squads and in particular that of the Socceroos. The third will relate to soccer in Australia in general, and will touch on topics such as youth development, the national league, and the sport’s competition with other sports.
This time around, just like the other times, there were cries that Oceania should get direct entry into the world. There is a feeling of injustice within Australia as we’re part of the only confederation that isn’t granted at least one full direct qualification spot for the World Cup.
Why is it that Oceania is the only confederation not to get at least one spot guaranteed spot in the World Cup? I assume it’s a number of reasons.
1. Its size (ie relatively small population) means that it isn’t a big enough market for FIFA to worry about, and FIFAs interests are better served by giving the World Cup spot to a more populace nation/confederation.
2. Oceania only received full confederation status in 1997 (I think it was 1997… I’ll have to check that).
3. Teams from Oceania haven’t justified direct qualification. Asia lost one of its direct qualifies because of its poor form at the last World Cup in France, so if Australia can’t beat the fifth best team in South America this time or the 5th (CHECK THIS) best from Asia back in 1997, why should they be given direct qualification to the finals.
Now, these are not the official reasons for Oceania not having a spot, but these are all likely factors for it. Each of these reasons can be dismissed as justification for the second-rate treatment Oceania has received in the past on a number of points, but I don’t particularly want to turn this “article” into a novel.
I, myself, am of two opinions on this matter.
One is that as a confederation Oceania should get a direct qualification spot. The biggest benefit of this would be the megabucks that the sport would receive as a result of qualifying, and the follow-on benefits that money would have for the sport in this country (provided Soccer Australia don’t continue their past form and mismanage the whole lot and end up broke again in a few years). The other benefit would be the boost in the local competitions (both at professional and amateur levels) because of the increased media attention that would accompany Australia’s qualification for a World Cup.
On the other side of it, I see the negatives of the direct qualification would be Australia’s lack of match practice as a team in the lead-up to a World Cup, and a lack of high-quality games for the Australian public to watch, thereby possibly harming the sports support in this country more than helping it.
So what do we do? There’s not a lot any of US can do, but the power that be…
I’m of the opinion that Oceania should gratefully accept a direct qualification spot to the 2006 World Cup to be held in Germany, if it is offered (as promised according to other soccer journalists). The confederation would be foolish not to. The money received from qualifying could then be used to improve the infrastructure of the sport locally. After one or two world cup campaigns, Oceania (or more accurately Australia, assuming it’s Australia that qualifies for these World Cups) may be in a position financially and structurally to unite/merge/affiliate with the Asian confederation, and then build a quality World Cup qualifying competition. Something similar to that of the North American confederation, where two teams from the Caribbean qualifiers join the likes of the USA, Mexico, Canada etc in the final qualifying round. Applied to Oceania and Asia it might see Oceania groups providing two qualifiers and Asian qualifiers providing 6 or eight teams and these two confederations arrange these qualifiers in two groups to battle for 5 or 6 world cup spots. Asian teams would potentially pick up the extra spot Oceania has provided and Australia and New Zealand (or two other member nations of the Oceania confederation, but that’s not likely) could potentially qualify for the same World Cup if they deserved it. The additional benefit of this would be that local fans of soccer would have the opportunity to see their national team play at the highest level, more than once every four years (another thing that is hurting the code in this country).
Soccer Australia and more importantly, the Oceania Football Confederation should give this issue the attention it deserves and fix the current situation, because as it is now, the cycle of disappointment every four years will continue indefinitely.