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Mar 8, 2010

Phoenix push claim for ACL eligibility

Wellington Phoenix say they should be entitled to qualify for the Asian Champions League, claiming they are no different to any other side in the A-League.

The New Zealand club's success in this year's finals series has raised questions over their eligibility for Asia's premier club competition.

Each season the A-League's minor premiers and grand final winners qualify for the following season's ACL, with Sydney FC already booking one spot for 2011 having lifted the Premiers Plate.

Should the Phoenix beat Sydney in their preliminary final on Sunday and go on to beat Melbourne in the grand final, they would theoretically be entitled to the second spot.

But under current rules, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) won't permit the Phoenix to enter the competition because they are not an Australian team and New Zealand falls inside the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC).

Football Federation Australia says the AFC is currently reviewing its stance on participation while the Phoenix are adamant they should be eligible.

"We feel we should be accorded the same rights as the other nine clubs in the competition, that is to say that we should be eligible for inclusion in the ACL," Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said on Tuesday.

"Wellington Phoenix is recognised by FIFA as an Australian club that happens to reside in New Zealand.

"Our players are registered with the FFA, just as all players in the A-League are.

"Essentially, we are no different to any other club in the competition."

Pignata would not completely rule out an appeal if the Phoenix managed to win the grand final but were then denied a spot in the ACL.

"That is something we will assess," he said.

"Our focus first and foremost is winning through to Melbourne for the grand final and any speculation beyond that is not part of our agenda."

The Phoenix have been the success story of the A-League this season and attracted more than 32,000 fans to their minor semi-final win over Newcastle at Westpac Stadium on Sunday.

But they have faced questions over their future since AFC chief Mohamed Bin Hammam made clear his indifference to the Phoenix's inclusion in the Australian competition.

Bin Hammam has insisted Wellington should class New Zealand players as imports like every other club in the competition to secure their long-term future, meaning they would be unrealistically restricted to fielding only three local players at a time.

Football Federation Australia has been working to soften the AFC's stance on Wellington's inclusion and the club is optimistic it will have its A-League license renewed for a further 10 years.

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