Football | SPORTS

New Format, Serritslev Firm

Since Australia left Oceania for Asia in 2006, the All Whites have made it to the intercontinental playoffs every time, beating Bahrain in 2009 to make it to the 2010 World Cup, but losing to Mexico in 2013 and Peru in 2017, while playing in front of large home crowds at Wellington’s Sky Stadium.
23 Nov 2021 13:00
New Format, Serritslev Firm
Rewa goalkeeper Mohammed Alam makes a save during the Digicel Premier League match. Alam is one of the three goalkeepers in the national football squad preparing for the Oceania qualifiers set for March, next year in Qatar. Photo: Leon Lord

The Oceania football champions will have to win a one-off intercontinental playoff next June to book a spot at next year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The change of format recently endorsed has come as a shock for Oceania favourites New Zealand.

The Oceania champions could face as many as four win-or-go-home qualifiers in a row, depending on the format for Oceania qualification in March, which is set to be confirmed this week.

 

FIFA confirmed the two-legged home-and-away format used in previous World Cup cycles would not be used next June.

Digicel Fijian football head coach Flemming Serritslev said yesterday that his first worry is to get past the Oceania qualifiers.

“We have to look at ourselves first, we have to do our very best to win,” he told SUNsports after he was asked on his thoughts about the change in format.

 

“The Oceania qualifiers is our first priority and we know it will be tough but we will see how it goes.”

“My mission is to know where we stand when compared to other teams.”

“We are the same as every other team in the Pacific. There is probably no difference at all.”

 

The Dutch highlighted that the only change is that the playoffs would be on a neutral venue instead of the two-legged home-and-away format

New Zealand Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell told stuff.co.nz the change was largely down to a timing conflict caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Digicel Fijian football head coach Flemming Serritslev. Photo: Fiji FA Media

Digicel Fijian football head coach Flemming Serritslev. Photo: Fiji FA Media

New format
The intercontinental playoffs will feature the top team from Oceania, the fourth-placed team from North and Central America and the Caribbean, the fifth-placed team from South America, and Asia.

That Asian team are only set to be decided after a playoff at the start of June.

That would have left limited time to organise a home-and-away fixture immediately afterwards, so FIFA has decided to go with a pair of one-off fixtures on neutral territory on June 13 and June 14.

 

Pragnell said the news had come as a surprise and while he would have liked more consultation beforehand, they were “going to have to roll with the punches and get on with it”.

Since Australia left Oceania for Asia in 2006, the All Whites have made it to the intercontinental playoffs every time, beating Bahrain in 2009 to make it to the 2010 World Cup, but losing to Mexico in 2013 and Peru in 2017, while playing in front of large home crowds at Wellington’s Sky Stadium.

 

Pragnell said missing out chance to potentially host a fourth match of that stature was a massive blow, especially as the home-and-away playoffs won’t return ahead of the 2026 event, where the top Oceania team will qualify directly.

“There’s no getting away from that. Those intercontinental playoff games have been dramatic.”

“They’ve been some of the greatest sporting moments in New Zealand sporting history, I would say. There’s massive disappointment all around on that front.”

 

Loss Of Revenue
Another blow would be the potential loss of revenue from selling the broadcast rights for the home leg of a playoff, but Pragnell said it was too soon to say what the impact would be, as the participating teams could still receive some income in that regard.

Pragnell also said NZ Football would have a keen interest in how the neutral venues were decided. Controversial World Cup hosts Qatar have been mooted as a potential host, but temperatures in the Middle East in June would be inhospitable – hence why the tournament itself has been moved from then to next November and December.

A one-off playoff is set to introduce more randomness and volatility into the equation, which will boost the chances of the underdog team, which would be the Oceania team in almost every scenario.

 

They will also avoid a difficult away trip to Central or South America, where the crowds and conditions can make life very difficult.

The draw for the intercontinental playoffs is set to be made this Saturday and will reveal which continent the Oceania team’s opponent will come from.

Facing the team from North and Central America and the Caribbean, which would be Panama as things stand, or the team from Asia, which would be Australia or the United Arab Emirates, would be the best possible outcomes.

Peru, who the All Whites lost to in 2017, are fifth in South America at present.

 

 

Oceania Qualifiers
Before they can worry about an intercontinental playoff, the All Whites will first have to emerge on top from Oceania qualification.

It is understood one format on the table is for eight teams to play knockout fixtures across three match days in a 10-day window until one is left standing.

If that was to happen, it would lift the hopes of the All Whites’ rivals, in the same way the one-off intercontinental playoff will lift the hopes of the Oceania qualifier.

 

Serritslev said they view New Zealand as the same way they look at Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

“We’ve to beat them all to qualify. I believe we have a very good team and I’m optimistic of our chances,” he added.

 

Feedback: simione.haravanua@fijisun.com.fj



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