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Oceania a step closer to World Cup

By Paul Mulvey 16/12/2002 07:19:17 PM Comments (0)

Australia took a major step toward a guaranteed place at the 2006 soccer World Cup after productive late lobbying.

Oceania soccer chief Basil Scarsella said he made progress with the South American delegation which was shaping as the biggest hurdle in the way of the region gaining a berth at sport's most prestigious showpiece.

Soccer's world governing body FIFA is meeting in Madrid on Monday and Tuesday to decide the makeup of the 32-team tournament in Germany and elevating Oceania from half a berth to a full place is the most contentious issue on the agenda.

"There's been plenty of talks and so far we continue to get positive vibes," Scarsella said from the Spanish capital.

"We'll know more tomorrow and certainly more by Tuesday morning.

"The South Americans will be OK. Based on discussions we've had with them yesterday and today, we're looking OK.

"I'm confident that we'll be OK, but I'll be happy when it's over."

Scarsella, president of the Oceania Football Confederation and a former chairman of Soccer Australia, would not elaborate on what the discussions entailed.

Earlier in the week, Nicolas Leoz, president of the South American confederation CONMEBOL, had said he was bemused by suggestions that Oceania deserved a guaranteed berth.

Leoz said he would push for South America to be promoted from four and a half places to five.

But during the FIFA finance committee meeting and while delegates enjoyed the Real Madrid match against Recreativo de Huelva at the Bernabeau, Scarsella managed to soften Leoz' stance.

Oceania already has the vital backing of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, as well as the reciprocated support of Asia which is seeking to increase its complement from 4.5 to five.

With the champion no longer given an automatic berth and only one host in 2006, another factor in Oceania's favour is that 31 spots are available rather than the 29 up for grabs for 2002.

Europe would be the likely source of a sacrifice after UEFA's 13.5 places became 15 in Korea and Japan this year when France automatically qualified as champion and Ireland beat Iran in a play-off.

In the past, Oceania has only had half a place - that is its champion has had to play a lower ranked team from a stronger confederation to qualify for the finals.

Just over 12 months ago, CONMEBOL's fifth ranked team Uruguay beat Australia for the final spot in Korea and Japan.

Barring catastrophe, Australia, currently ranked 47 in the world, is a near certainty to be Oceania champion every time with New Zealand the major opposition in the 11-nation confederation which includes the likes of soccer plankton Vanuatu, Tahiti, Cook Islands and American Samoa.

FIFA gave Oceania full status in 1998 but it remains the only one of the six confederations without one guaranteed spot.

The only times Oceania has graced soccer's biggest stage was when Australia made it through to the finals in 1974 and New Zealand in 1982.

Brought to you by AAP AAP © 2021 AAP

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