Just how impartial are FIFA?
Interesting goings on across the Tasman where the Socceroos are starting to prepare for their four-yearly “win at all costs” match. Unbelievably, Australia’s * and Oceania’s * most important match in 4 years still does not have a date set, though it is now a maximum of just 75 days until it is played.
Last Friday, the draw was made for the play off match between the Oceania winner and South Americas’ fifth placed team. Australia, apparently, came out of the crystal glass first and are therefore scheduled to play at home in the first leg. This fits in nicely with Soccer Australia who have organised a match with world champions France at the MCG on November 11.
Of course the initial reaction for Australia is one of disappointment. The psychological benefits of playing the second leg at home are well known. Generally teams will spend half the first leg feeling each other out & valuable home leg time wasted. And if the away team scores well you could just about be forgiven for thinking that it is all over. Then the home team in the second leg will have the advantage of knowing their opponent better and being able to exploit any weaknesses for longer. Of course if the match goes into extra time then that, obviously, is to the benefit of the home team in the second leg who will have more time playing on their ground, in their familiar conditions and in front of their partisan fans.
This time though there is a huge benefit for Australia to play the first leg at home. In fact it was crucial. Why? FIFA regulations of course! Article 6 of FIFA’s World Cup regulations clearly states that “Any playoffs shall have been contested by November 25, 2001”. However, the final round of CONMEBOL matches won’t be completed until November 14, 2001 – the 15th in Australia. Given the closeness of the competition any one of four countries could be Australias opponent. Indeed it is quite likely that the fifth placed side won’t be known until after that last round of qualifiers.
This means then that the 5th placed side will need to leave South America, travel halfway around the world, play a crucial world cup match and then travel half way around the world again, before playing an even more crucial match at home – all in the space of ten days. When Australia announce November 17 or 18 as the date of the home leg, the South Americans will no doubt protest. “That won’t give us time to prepare adequately” they will scream. However any later than that, and there won’t, realistically, be enough time to get back to South America for the return leg.
And FIFA will be left with a choice. Follow the regulations – THEIR regulations – or bend the rules. Now if the rules ARE “bent” then obviously you would think Australia would then protest and again the ball would lie in FIFA’s court. Ultimately FIFA will have to decide and if they are impartial then Australia will have a huge advantage.
Unfortunately I think back to January 1982 and China v New Zealand in “neutral” Singapore when we requested Australia as a neutral venue.
I think back to years of fighting to have Oceania recognised as a valid and viable confederation.
I think back to Oceanias never ending battle to have one solitary single direct representative out of thirty two world cup qualifiers. After all, the best 5 African nations qualify, the best 4 Asian nations qualify, the best 4 South American nations qualify and the best 3 North American nations qualify. Oceania gets NONE.
And I think I know which way FIFA will decide. Especially if Brazil are the Aussies opponents.