New Zealand’s shellacking at the hands of Mexico in the inter-continental playoff for next year’s World Cup must surely raise questions over the future of the Oceania Football Confederation.
Mexico secured passage through to Brazil on Wednesday following an emphatic 9-3 aggregate (5-1; 4-2) victory over the Kiwis across two legs, with a massive gulf in class between the two sides clearly evident throughout the fixtures.
Currently ranked 79th in the FIFA world rankings, New Zealand are the only side from Oceania in the top 100, and the only nation with even a remote chance of qualifying for football’s biggest stage.
The task the All Whites must face to qualify for the World Cup every four years is a familiar one for those of us across the Tasman.
Upon finishing atop of the Oceania qualifying stage, which the Kiwis usually achieve, they must then be forced into a two-legged playoff with a side from one of the five other continental confederations – in Mexico’s case, Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
Any fan of the Socceroos prior to 2005 will recall the dreaded feeling this would cause when a team the calibre of Argentina or Uruguay lay in waiting.
New Zealand Football has made previous attempts to work around this difficult situation, including a 2011 proposal to FIFA for the Oceania qualifier to be allowed entry to the final group stage of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualification.
Such a move would see the inter-continental playoff scrapped, however FIFA rejected the initiative.
When Australia was finally accepted into the AFC in 2006, and passage to the World Cup made simpler through more qualification spots, a new era of football in the country was born.
Two successive World Cup qualifications, as well as the subsequent growth in popularity of the sport at a domestic level, has made this progression abundantly clear.
Surely New Zealand’s inception into Asia is now a matter of if, not when.
However, this has the potential to raise more issues than it solves. The All Whites’ departure from Oceania would certainly serve as a nail-in-the-coffin for the Confederation, which would be unable to survive with minnows such as New Caledonia carrying it on its shoulders.
Although the region is mostly made up of tiny island nations in the Pacific, and transition would take considerable time, the appropriate football governing bodies must start considering the idea of Oceania fully integrating into the AFC.
It may not happen overnight, but if FIFA is unwilling to act on the issue surrounding the inter-continental playoff system, then it may be the inevitable solution.