11 Jan 2017

Oceania to get direct entry to World Cup, maybe more?

11:11 am on 11 January 2017

New Zealand Football believes the expansion of World Cups to 48 teams from 2026 will significantly increase the All Whites chances of qualifying.

All Whites captain Chris Wood celebrates his goal against New Caledonia.

All Whites' striker Chris Wood celebrates scoring a goal against New Caledonia Photo: Photosport

Currently the All Whites must win the Oceania confederation, and then play the fifth ranked South American nation for a place at the 32 team 2018 tournament in Russia.

NZF chief executive Andy Martin said Oceania should get at least one direct entry in the new format and he's confident they may even get more.

"We're expecting something that is better than what we got today so we can only hope that that means a direct entry as a minimum. We're led to believe that this will mean at least one place so if that's the case it would be fantastic for the whole of Oceania."

Martin said direct entry for a team from OFC into the FIFA World Cup is something that New Zealand Football has been lobbying for with OFC for a long time.

"The key thing is anything that takes away the sudden death playoff scenario that we are faced with today in Oceania to get to the World Cup is good news," he said.

"This gives us a fighting chance. Whoever qualifies from Oceania gets into a group and you can settle into that group a bit more so it is great news for Oceania and great news for New Zealand Football."

The All Whites play Fiji in home and away ties in March for the Oceania Confederation title, with the winner advancing to a playoff against a South American side.

FIFA this morning voted to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from its current 32 from 2026.

FIFA said its decision-making panel voted unanimously in favour of the change drawn up by its president, Gianni Infantino, who brushed aside criticisms it would lower the overall standard of the tournament, and make it too big and unwieldy.

FIFA's six continents should find out in May how many extra places they will each get.

Martin stressed there were no guarantees and the highly competitive OFC playoffs would only grow in strength with the prize of automatic qualification for a FIFA World Cup on the line.

"All of the teams in Oceania will be delighted with this news. It is going to mean that everyone is more competitive and everyone will be pushing harder so we will have to keep on our toes. Hopefully we can get this economic cycle to work a bit better for us."

FIFA's 211 member associations each hold one vote in the presidential election and 135 of them have never played at a World Cup, so expansion of the tournament was always likely to appeal.

Those who have never qualified include 41 out of 54 of its African members and 10 out of 11 members in the Oceania region.

Infantino said the move meant that "more can participate and many more will have a chance to dream".

The new format will feature a first round of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two in each qualifying for a round of 32.

From then on, it would be a straightforward knockout contest.

The hosts of the 2026 tournament will be decided in May 2020.