FIFA president Gianni Infantino has guaranteed a place for Oceania in an expanded Club World Cup, while attending the confederation’s extraordinary congress in Auckland on Saturday March 9.
The Fifa Council is set to consider a new format for the Club World Cup when it meets in Miami this week, with Infantino backing plans to expand it to 24 teams and hold it every four years in place of the Confederations Cup.
The winner of the OFC Champions League qualifies for the Club World Cup each year its current format, but has to defeat the reigning champion of the host nation before it gets to face a continental champion from another confederation, something Auckland City managed in 2009 and 2014, where it finished third overall.
On Saturday, Infantino said there would be direct entry for an Oceania team to a revamped event, ensuring the region will continue to receive the benefits it currently does, both financially and in terms of profile.
New Zealand teams have qualified for the Club World Cup out of Oceania on 12 of 13 occasions since Australia left the OFC in 2006 and the prize money they have received has been vital in keeping the national men’s league afloat.
Infantino was adamant the Club World Cup needed to be given greater prominence and that would be good for Oceania, the smallest of the game’s six confederations.
“The last Club World Cup, we had a team from Oceania [Team Wellington] that was winning 3-0, against a team from the UAE, Al Ain, who then managed to turn the result around and qualified for the final against Real Madrid,” he said.
“We can see that there is some quality here, the problem is that nobody knows about it, and why does nobody know about it, it’s because the current Club World Cup is not good, and it has to be changed.
“It has to be changed to have a real impact, so we are proposing to change it and to replace another competition which has no real impact, which is the Confederations Cup, with a real Club World Cup, with maybe 24 teams, of which at least one should be from Oceania. One fixed spot, not like now for the World Cup which is a half spot, but one spot for an Oceania team.
“You will tell me well, but we already have one team, but you have one team now that plays the preliminary round of the preliminary round, which is watched by maybe the girlfriends of the players, and their mothers, and maybe not their fathers, because they are working, with the time difference. Nobody is getting any attention for that.
“In a real Club World Cup, which is played in the June slot of the Confederations Cup … the world will watch this competition. The best teams of the world will participate, including one team from Oceania, which will make Oceania known in the world, and which can compete.
“We know the only sport in the world is football where in 90 minutes anything can happen, so I think this will boost club football all around the world and in particular in Oceania.”
Meanwhile, Vanuatu’s Lambert Maltock has been unanimously elected president of OFC for the next four years.
He was first elected to the role on an interim basis last June following the resignation of Papua New Guinea’s David Chung, who was last week banned for six years by FIFA, after its ethics committee found him guilty of offering and accepting gifts and having conflicts of interest.
Maltock will be joined by Wood and Fiji’s Rajesh Patel on the FIFA Council.