Soccer - New Zealand's Wood unhappy with World Cup qualifying schedule

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Soccer Football - Men - Group B - New Zealand v Honduras - Ibaraki Kashima Stadium, Ibaraki, Japan - July 25, 2021. Chris Wood of New Zealand REUTERS/Henry Romero

(Reuters) - New Zealand striker Chris Wood said a nine-team tournament next year to decide which Oceanian side will reach the intercontinental playoff for a spot at the World Cup finals could affect player welfare due to its tight schedule.

Oceania does not have an automatic place at the World Cup. The winner of the March 14-30 competition in Qatar will face the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF region, which features sides from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

FIFA granted the Oceania Football Confederation a one-day extension to the March international window, which is due to run from March 21 to 29, to allow teams to call up overseas-based players from the final round of group matches onwards.

But Wood, who plays for Premier League side Burnley, said some players could also face a club-against-country battle because of the format of the competition, with group games taking place before the international window.

"I think it's ridiculous because as a squad we won't be able to get some of our best players there. We're looking at up to 16 players who won't be able to get there for the first couple of games," Wood told the LancsLive website.

"I don't think FIFA should have ever allowed us to be in this situation. It could take away a lot of our players, which in theory takes away from the competition and who is the best from OFC going to the World Cup.

"I'd expect FIFA to look at it more in depth and come up with a solution around it. It's not a great format as we speak. Hopefully they can change it because player welfare isn't right if you're making people play five games in 13 days."

New Zealand were the last country from the region to qualify for the World Cup when they appeared in South Africa in 2010.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by William)

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