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NZ eye soccer qualifying through Asia

The Socceroos could find themselves battling rivals New Zealand on the road to future World Cups with the Asian Football Confederation looking at ways to incorporate Oceania into the AFC's qualifying equation.

AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said the two groups were working on a proposal to combine Asia's four-and-a-half World Cup qualifying slots with Oceania's half spot.

New Zealand football figures, including outgoing coach Ricki Herbert, have sought the country's direct inclusion in the AFC but Shaikh Salman said it would be better to combine Asia and Oceania's World Cup quotas.

"We had the Australians in but I think we should look at how can we combine our slot together," Shaikh Salman said.

"This is something that we're discussing with Oceania and hopefully we come to an agreement on how those legs are to be played, because I think geographically we're much closer and on a technical basis we're level or on the same par."

That could mean Oceania teams doing battle with Asian sides as part of a re-jigged qualification structure, or, the winner of the Oceania confederation joining the AFC group at some point during the World Cup playoffs.

The region's two play-off contenders, Jordan and New Zealand, were roundly defeated in their efforts to conquer Central and South American opponents to make the 2014 World Cup.

FIFA would have to clear any changes and insiders said any agreement would also have to contend with many political and commercial roadblocks, with the desire to give New Zealand an easier qualifying route unlikely to win out.

Australia made a similar switch after the 2006 qualification, avoiding difficult inter-continental play-offs to qualify in 2010 and 2014 as a result.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has recently said he wanted more World Cup places for Asia, and the play-off system could also be scrapped.

Shaikh Salman said the AFC's competitions committee would discuss World Cup qualifying in January, with FIFA's executive committee to potentially decide upon any changes in April 2014.


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