AFC rooting for Australian win against Uruguay

The Asian Football Confederation is supporting Australia against Uruguay in next month's World Cup play-offs in order to strengthen Asia's claims for more World Cup places in future. Australia is currently representing the Oceania Confederation but officially become the 46th member of the AFC on 1 January. Asia has 4½ spots in the 32-team World Cup but the AFC wants at least one and possibly two more in time for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"We are hoping for this very much," AFC general secretary Peter Velappan said in Sydney, Australia, where he was attending a conference on Australia's entry into the AFC. "This is one issue which has been going on a long time. When Australia joins us, they will be a very strong member. FIFA knows when we sit down next year to talk about 2010, we will be asking for an extra seat. Hopefully Australia will make it to Germany, and Bahrain also has a good chance. Once these two play-offs are finished, we could have six teams in the World Cup. Asia will then have a very strong argument to take to FIFA."

Speaking at the conference, Football Federation Australia chief executive John O’Neill said the move to Asia offered Australia high quality opposition and the chance of automatic qualification. But he said Australia would also contribute to Asian football through its experience in organising major sporting events, its top class coaches and its ability to help provide sporting facilities in developing nations.

He also said it also gave Australia the chance to develop fierce football rivalries in Asia which could eventually compare to the Ashes cricket contest with England and the Bledisloe Cup rugby union clash with New Zealand. He said an annual three-way tournament featuring Australia, Japan and South Korea would generate huge interest. “In my experience of sport, it would not take long for that to get a lot of traction as a major tribal clash,” he said.

Tim Harcourt, chief economist at the federal government’s Australian Trade Commission, said the FFA's move into Asia could result in contracts worth billions of dollars for Australian businesses. He said Austrade had successfully secured dozens of contracts during the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2003 Rugby World Cup by introducing business executives in the relaxed atmosphere of sporting events. “With Japan, China and Korea, there’s a very good story in terms of dollars and investment in the move to Asia,” he said. “Football is going to be the real test of how well this ‘schmoozing’ concept goes.”

Michael Cockerill reported that Seamus O'Brien, president of World Sport Group, who helped construct the Asian Champions League now predicts a drift of talent away from Europe and into the major domestic competitions of the region, including the A-League. "I strongly believe we'll get a reverse migration of talent," he said.

"That comes from economic strength but also the desire of some players to be closer to home … Certainly Japan is on the verge of having the strength to buy in the big talent. And I don't mean a guy over the hill … I mean a guy who's almost at his peak. China has that capacity, and so do other leagues in Asia. Money is coming into the game, and this will allow clubs to pay the sort of salaries that will encourage players to play in Asia instead of Europe. Believe me, it's not too far away."

With two A-League teams qualifying for the ACL each season and with the ACL about to be expanded from a 28- to 32-team format, there are structural issues to addressed. "We've got to create space for Australia … and we've got to slightly tweak it to focus on bigger footballing markets, just like the Champions League does in Europe … and by 2007 we'll have that new structure in place," he said. "Within five years, I would say the winners will be earning multi-millions, while those who don't get past the group stages will still be earning decent hundreds of thousands."

Mr Bong Lee, chief executive officer of the A-League's principal sponsor, Hyundai, believes Australia needs to get behind soccer now or end up lost in an sports dead-end. "I think the Australian people have to support this world game. It's that simple," he said. "We are living on the planet and which sport is most popular? That is football. Why would Australian people ignore that kind of importance when they love sport so much? It doesn't make sense. If you want to be forever on an island, that's fine. You enjoy your island. But as a member of the global people, I need to join in their joy, to join their sports passion."


Australia’s first competitive participation as an AFC member will be at the youth level as the Confederation’s Competitions Committee agreed to postpone its U17 and U20 qualification rounds to January 2006. According to AFCMedia (22 Oct), the postponement was necessary so as to provide Australia with a chance to compete in the final rounds of the Asian U17 and U20 competitions due to be held at the end of 2006 in Singapore and India respectively. Australia will now compete in the qualification matches in place of host Singapore and India. In the U17 qualification matches, Australia is grouped with Laos and Indonesia while the Aussies have Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka as company in the U20 qualification.

See also: Australia's 'new' football growing with confidence (17 Oct)