By Talek Harris ,AFP
KUALA LUMPUR — Asia and Oceania are in talks to share their World Cup qualifying slots to give teams more chance of reaching football’s biggest stage, Asia’s soccer chief said. Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), said a proposal would be drawn up and submitted to world body FIFA for approval. The news comes after Jordan and New Zealand lost intercontinental World Cup playoffs against Uruguay and Mexico respectively, with both teams shipping five goals in the first leg. After the loss to Mexico, outgoing All Whites coach Ricki Herbert said New Zealand should follow Australia by quitting Oceania to join the AFC. But speaking after the AFC awards dinner in Kuala Lumpur, Shaikh Salman said it would be better to combine Asia and Oceania’s World Cup quotas. “We had the Australians in but I think we should look at how can we combine our slot together,” Shaikh Salman said late on Tuesday. “This is something that we’re discussing with Oceania and hopefully we come to an agreement on how those legs are to be played, because I think geographically we’re much closer and on a technical basis we’re level or on the same par.” Asia has four automatic World Cup places plus a “half-slot” — a spot in an intercontinental playoff — while only one Oceania team is capable of reaching the tournament, also via a playoff. Growing market Asia has the world’s biggest confederation with 46 members, while Oceania groups 11 island teams spread across a wide swathe of the Pacific. Asian teams have a poor record in the World Cup playoffs, while the lure of automatic qualifying spots were a key reason behind Australia’s switch to the AFC in 2006. “This is a decision that should be by FIFA as well, (combining) the half-slot,” Shaikh Salman said. “We still have time but this is something we need to look at in the future.” He added: “I think we have to look at the continent as a whole, not just inviting each team that wants to come. Because what’s going to be left of Oceania?” Australia have reached both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups through Asian qualifying, elbowing out competitors such as Saudi Arabia who reached four straight editions up to 2006. New Zealand’s appearance in 2010 — where they bowed out unbeaten after draws with Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia — was their first in 28 years. No other Oceania team has reached the World Cup.
Shaikh Salman said the AFC’s competitions committee would discuss World Cup qualifying in January, with proposals due to come before the executive committee by April.