May 01, 2017

Horse 2266 - No FIFA, You Don't Get To Crow About This

In a week that saw FIFA facing legal action over bribery in US courts and further proof that the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were also open to corruption, FIFA's Twitter account was blissfully unaware of all of this and was busily spruiking the upcoming Confederations Cup in Russia. They are counting down their top 50 moments of tournaments past, as propaganda for the one to come; yet even here we find controversy.
No 49 on the list was from the 2001 Confederations Cup when minnows Australia beat the then World Cup champions France 1-0, thanks to a scrappy goal following a free kick, from Clayton Zane. Presumably FIFA wants to show that this is one of those rare pieces of magic that can only happen in sport: after all, Australia hadn't even qualified for the 1998 World Cup where France had become champions.

I'll admit that it was a nice bit of theatre but in the grand scheme of events that were happening at the time, the fact that this happened at all is utterly disgraceful.

Before 2006, Australia was in the Oceania Football Confederation. Apart from New Zealand and Fiji, the population of the all the nations in the confederation combined, is less than the population of the local council where I live in western Sydney. When the national champion of the Fijian Football Association has been teams like Suva Foodtown FC which is made up of employees from the supermarket in downtown Suva, that should speak volumes that perhaps the viability of the entire confederation should have been called into question. To this day I still think that Oceanian should play as a single combined team in the Asian Football Confederation and New Zealand as only nation that can stand up by itself should also join Asia, but all of this is an aside.
For the 1998 World Cup in France, Australia didn't qualify for the tournament because of a series of idiotic events.

The Oceania Qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup put the six teams of the confederation (6 of 14 who bothered to enter) into two groups. Australia was put into Group A along with the Solomon Islands and Tahiti; the winners of the two groups would play each other. The results of Group A were as follows:
Australia 13 - Solomon Islands 0
Australia 5 - Tahiti 0
Solomon Islands 2 - Australia 6
Tahiti 0 - Australia 2.
Australia: Played 4, won 4, goals scored 26, goals conceded 2.

Australia would then go on to play New Zealand away and home, for the right to play the fifth placed best side in Asia. Those two matches went:
New Zealand 0 - Australia 3
Australia 2 - New Zealand 0

The fifth best side in Asia was Iran. Iran like every other nation in the world was trying to qualify for the World Cup proper but given that they knew that Australia wouldn't be expecting the task to be easy, the pitch that the Iranian Football Association had prepared in Tehran was more akin to a concrete council car park than a football pitch. If a local under 12s team in Sydney had to play on such a horrible ground, there would be complaints made to the local council.

That match went:
Iran 1 - Australia 1.
The goals came from Leeds United striker Harry Kewell who singlehandedly was paid more than the entire Iranian team and Khodadad Azizi, who was already something of an Iranian legend of the game.

The return fixture in Australia was held on the MCG; which although was a horrid venue to play football on because of the ground being chopped up by Australian Rules football which was normally played there, it was still a world away from the previous fixture in Iran. That match went:
Australia 2 - Iran 2.
The goals came from Harry Kewell and Aurelio Vidmar, and Karimi Baghari and Khodadad Azizi.

Owing to the idiotic away goals rule, Iran qualified for the 1998 World Cup because it had scored two goals in Australia, as opposed to Australia only scoring one goal in Iran. This meant that Australia didn't​ qualify for the 1998 World Cup despite a record of:
Played 8, won 6, drew 2, goals scored 34, goals conceded 5, lost 0.
Let me just stress this - Australia despite winning the confederation and being the only undefeated side in the whole world in the qualifiers for the World Cup, still didn't qualify.

The whole absurdity of the existence of the Oceania Football Confederation was highlighted when during the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup (which Australia also didn't qualify for), they defeated American Samoa 31 - 0. This remains the highest score and biggest margin in international football; which is ridiculous because it shouldn't have been allowed to take place.

I find this comment by FIFA, particularly galling.
Clayton Zane’s precise strike in the 60th minute handed Australia an unlikely victory, although the loss did not prevent the French from going on to win the tournament.
Unlikely? Rubbish!
The fact that Australia beat France 1 - 0 in one match should be seen as entirely unremarkable and I suspect that FIFA are trying to spin this as proof of their good management in fostering the game but the fact remains that they've basically been drowning Oceania Football in tropical sea of apathy by keeping their boot firmly on the neck of the confederation.
Football Australia aren't a whole lot better because after the 2006 World Cup (which Australia did qualify after beating the fifth best side in South America), they jumped ship out of Oceania and into Asia and have done nothing for the good of the confederation that they left behind.

If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, then by all means Oceania would play an internal tournament but for them to even have a hope of playing on a bigger stage, they should be playing as a single team in the same way that the West Indies do in cricket, or the USSR used to in football.
And FIFA, you don't get to crow about this. It's your bad stewardship that meant that this stupidity of history occurred. It's a complete mockery of your slogan "For the good of the game."

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