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One of the most common beliefs is that Oceania is an anachronistic organisation and it should join Asia to form the Asian Pacific region. This will allow New Zealand and other Oceania countries to have regular, competitive matches.
However, this isn’t that simple, and there’s simply not enough incentives for both sides to make this merger work.
When Australia joined with Asia, one of the reasons why Australia was accepted was that Australia would benefit Asia because of our professional attitude, comparatively great infrastructure, our developed nation status, decreasing the chance of Asia losing a World Cup spot, increasing the chance of winning another spot and giving Asian countries an experience playing against a European style of football. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
However, what’s in it for Asia to accept Oceania? Most of the benefits that Australia can offer to Asia can’t be offered by other Oceania countries. They already have the responsibility and the burden to prop up numerous national leagues and national teams because many of the countries within the region are developing countries and their football associations are not self-sustaining.
Some of these countries do not have professional leagues, and the AFC have to spend large amounts of money to help countries manage their leagues, help with logistical cost of travels for international matches and organising tournaments solely for the benefit of developing nations.
New Zealand is the most advanced nation in Oceania and they do not have a professional league and have to rely on Australia for that benefit. So accepting New Zealand and Oceania does nothing to advance AFC ongoing mission to increase professionalism in Asia.
The only thing this will do is give more countries for the AFC to prop up. AFC are not a charity and they are not going to accept any new nations unless they have to. AFC may well win an extra half a spot by accepting Oceania, but for them they would rather take their chances of attempting to beat New Zealand in a playoff than to accept Oceania and all the responsibilities that come with that.
I also like to point out that it’s a myth that Oceania joining AFC will get the teams to have regular competitive matches. Only New Zealand stands to benefit from the merger with Asia and most of the smaller countries would not. If there is a complete merger of Oceania and Asia, the OFC Champions League, OFC Nations Cup and separate Oceania qualification is disbanded. Most of the Oceania countries will play less competitive games than they do now.
Currently Oceania countries are guaranteed four games in the South Pacific Cup. But the stronger Oceania countries like New Caledonia and Fiji play up to six games in the South Pacific Cup (semi-final and finals) and then six games in the OFC Nations Cup before the potential play off with 5th place Asia.
If they join Asia, they have to win two home and away legs just to reach the group stages which is where they will get regular matches. I feel that only New Zealand is good enough to reach the group stages. Most of the other Oceania nations will have their World Cup qualifying chances dashed after two games.
What about the Asian Cup? Well all developing countries do not participate in the conventional AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. They play in a plate like tournament called AFC Challenge Cup. The winner of this tournament qualifies to the Asian Cup. They get a minimum of three games in the group stages and have to win five games to qualify to the Asian Cup.
I don’t see the Oceania teams going too far in that tournament. It’s most likely that other then New Zealand, the Oceania team will get about five competitive games every four years (three in the AFC Challenge Cup and two in the World Cup qualifiers) which is less then half of what they do now.
AFC currently have an AFC Presidential Cup. This is where emerging nations clubs can play against each other. This is where Oceania sides can get the most tangible benefits from joining Asia.
However, there are criteria saying only leagues of acceptable standards can join the Presidential Cup leaving a fair amount of nations without continental competition. It’s quite possible that AFC can decide to shaft Oceania by deciding their leagues are not to an acceptable standard as well. Considering that OFC already have an Oceania Champions League, there’s no reason to join Asia simply to join that competition.
So, therefore, there isn’t an incentive by either confederation to merge with each other. The only way I can see it happening is if FIFA forces the two confederations to merge and to have FIFA overlook the process to ensure that Oceania doesn’t get shafted.
I think the best alternative for Oceania is to lobby for the champions of the OFC to play in the final rounds of AFC qualification.