Oceania's battle to be heard boosted by U-20 World Cup wins

  • Football
  • Saturday, 06 Jun 2015

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Maiden wins for New Zealand and Fiji in the under-20 World Cup can only be good for Oceania football in the long-term, according to New Zealand coach Darren Bazeley.

The Junior All Whites scored their first win at the bi-annual tournament when they hammered Asian debutants Myanmar 5-1 in Wellington on Friday, a little more than 24 hours after Fiji upset Honduras 3-0.

Both sides can still advance to the knockout round of 16, with New Zealand looking to qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams and Fiji hoping to finish second in Group F if they beat Uzbekistan on Sunday.

"Massive congratulations to Fiji. That is an ... inspiring story," Bazeley told reporters on Friday after his side's first victory in the tournament.

"It's brilliant for Oceania. It's a big bonus for the area to have some wins from the confederation at the World Cup.

"Hopefully the area is going stronger and stronger and we will be qualifying for the senior World Cups."

The two wins will do no harm for FIFA's weakest confederation in its bid for more top-class opportunities for their senior sides, while aiding the argument for direct entry to the senior men's World Cup.

Oceania is made up of 11 nations in the South Pacific, eight of whom are in the bottom 20 of FIFA's rankings, with New Zealand the strongest in the vast but sparsely populated region.

The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) only has half a qualifying spot for the men's World Cups, with the winner of the region forced into an inter-continental playoff for the finals, often against opponents in the Americas.

Direct entry for the OFC for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups had been mooted by embattled FIFA President Sepp Blatter but was rejected by the world governing body's Executive Committee last week, prompting a forceful expression of disappointment by New Zealand Football.

However, Blatter's announcement of his resignation this week in the wake of the corruption scandal could give NZF and the OFC an opportunity to push for more meaningful matches and direct entry to the World Cup, according to NZF chief executive Andy Martin.

"Any new leader coming into FIFA would need to have a look at the geographical split and the balance across the confederations," Martin told Reuters.

"I'm fairly new into football into New Zealand in the last 12 months but it is fairly clear that Oceania is the poor relation and something needs to change to get a balance."

While direct qualification for Oceania to the World Cups would be "nice", it would not be conducive to the standards of football in the region to be given "entry on the cheap", Martin said.

"From a New Zealand Football perspective, we need more competitive games on a regular basis," he added.

"What we want is a route that is competitive ... and gives us a shot at qualifying for the World Cup as opposed to the random nature we have at the moment where we face one of the top South American nations."

Martin felt OFC's future lay with a closer alignment with Asia, with one qualifying route suggested being the Oceania winner joining the final round of qualifying matches within the AFC, or facing off with an Asian side for the final spot.

"That is one of the points we're lobbying hard for," he said. "We are working hard to find what that Asian link is and this is something we will be talking to any prospective candidates for the presidency now."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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