Australia still only playing as 'invitee' in ASEAN

A meeting of the ASEAN Football Federation has ammended regulations governing regional competition in South East Asia. The changes so far restrict participation in SEA U17 and U20 tournaments to teams which have qualified for the 2006 Asian Championship finals with additional teams from other regions to be invited by the AFF to provide stronger compeition. The SEA U20 championship in 2006 therefore comprises Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, as qualifiers, with Australia as the invitational team. Similarly, the 2006 SEA U17 event will draw Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar and an invitational team from the East Asia region.

The AFF changes appear to ignore the changed status of Australia which joined the Asian Football Confederation from Oceania on 1 January this year. The AFC's 46 national federations are divided into four groups – East Asia with nine federations, West Asia with 12, Central and South Asia 12, and ASEAN 13.

However, according to Than Nien newspaper (Vietnam), only 11 ASEAN zone football teams will be permitted into the two new SEA play-off divisions: the five lower-ranking nations Laos, East Timor, Brunei, Cambodia and Philippines will play pre-qualifiers and the two best teams will advance to join the six remaining regional teams, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam. The eight qualifiers, separated in two groups, will then play in group stage, semifinals and finals.

The excluded ASEAN zone countries - Australia and the Maldives Republic - are the only two in the zone that are not also members of the ASEAN Football Federation. This is consistent with the advice previously confirmed to the Asian Football Business Review by AFC deputy general secretary, Dato Paul Mony Samuel, who also acts as the AFF's general sectretary, that membership of the zone does not automatically include Australia in ASEAN tournements (inluding the ASEAN Cup, formerly 'Tiger' Cup) as the ASEAN Football Federation and the AFC zone - "are two different things".

UPDATE: According to the Vietnam Football Federation (19 March 2006), The chairman of the East Asian Football Federation, Takeo Okada, addressed the meeting of the ASEAN Football Federation and tabled the idea of both federations working closely together in fields such as training, marketing and communications. Okada’s plan would give teams in South East Asia further opportunities to compete against strong rivals in the East Asian region such as Japan, South Korea and China.

"Representatives agreed with Okada’s idea but worried about how to devise a plan to benefit all involved. A decision will be finalised at the conference in May in Cambodia, representatives concluded," the VFF reported.

At the meeting, the AFF also announced the South East Asian Football Championships, the former Tiger Cup, will officially kick off in January 2007. The competitor list so far includes Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar; two others who will play in an earlier qualifying round will finish off the roster.

It is still not clear what role, if any, Australia will play in the ASEAN group. Perhaps the AFC newcomer should have been placed in East Asia where it would have the opportunity of competing against strong - and more accomodating - rivals.