Fri, Mar 25, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Socceroos' Farina calls Asia move a watershed

AP , SYDNEY

Australia's chances of making the World Cup finals will improve dramatically if its move to join the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is endorsed by FIFA, Socceroos coach Frank Farina said.

The AFC has formally invited Australia to join 45 nations under its umbrella, joining a continental federation that already stretches from Japan to Jordan.

Australia needs to quit the Oceania confederation and have FIFA, soccer's world governing body, accept its move before it can start competing in Asian club and international competitions, including qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup.

"It will change the game dramatically at all levels both internationally and domestically," Farina was quoted saying yesterday. "We'll have up to 16 [World Cup] qualification games that will capture the public imagination.

"It's as important as qualifying for the World Cup every four years -- it's a watershed."

Oceania Football Confederation general secretary Tai Nicholas said the whole federation might follow Australia.

"There is the possibility of all Oceania merging with Asia in some form, perhaps as a region within the Asian group," Nicholas said yesterday. "That would have some benefits, giving us access to their technical programs and access to Asia's larger sponsors."

Nicholas said the OFC had known for some time about Australia's latest bid to join Asia.

"Our stance has been that if Australia was to receive an invitation to join Asia, as they now have, we wouldn't be stopping them, in fact we would probably be supporting them," he said.

"We will meet as a board [April 16] to discuss it. It seems likely at this stage that a majority if not all of the remaining Oceania members will support the move."

Nicholas said if Australia had FIFA's support, "we would have no power to intervene ... technically, we couldn't stop them in any case."

In Australia's absence, smaller Oceania nations might gain access to some of FIFA's biggest tournaments -- including the Confederations Cup and world club championships -- although it wouldn't necessarily change the World Cup qualifying format.

Under its circuitous qualifying format, top-ranked Australia must beat Solomon Islands in the last round of Oceania qualifying and then win an intercontinental playoff series with the fifth-place South American team -- still undetermined -- to make the 2006 World Cup.

Oceania is the only one of FIFA's confederations which doesn't have a guaranteed spot in the World Cup finals.

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