The Philippines has an out-of-the-box solution to making the 2022 World Cup final stage: switching Confederations from Asia to Oceania, or the South Pacific.
“I think this is a great idea that could really help us in our drive to reach Qatar in 2022,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. FIFA has six confederations or geographic groupings, namely Europe (UEFA), South America, (CONMEBOL), North and Central America plus the Carribbean, (CONCACAF), Africa, (CAF), Asia, (AFC), and Oceania, (OFC). The number of FIFA World Cup berths varies from confederation to confederation based on the strength of the teams there.
According to Palami the PFF Board of Governors are set to meet on this decision soon.
The AFC offers four direct slots to the World Cup, with an extra slot making it into an intercontinental playoff. Oceania doesn’t have any direct slots but instead must make do with a slot into an intercontinental playoff against a lower-ranked side from another confederation. The OFC is a much weaker confederation than the AFC, and has only eleven nations. If the Philippines leaves AFC then powerhouses like South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia no longer stand in our way of our World Cup dream.
The move will not be without precedent. Australia were previously a part of the Oceania Football Confederation but fled the OFC for the AFC in 2006 to face stronger competition. The Socceroos once defeated the Solomon Island 13-0 in an OFC qualifier 20 years ago.
If the Philippines jumps ship to the OFC then we will be retracing the path of Australia, but only in reverse. Chinese Taipei is another FIFA Member Association that has switched from Oceania to Asia. They made the leap in 1989.
In the last World Cup qualifying campaign OFC champs New Zealand won the right to face the fourth place team from CONCACAF, or North and Central America, which was Mexico, in an intercontinental playoff. The Mexicans prevailed 9-3 on aggregate over two legs.
According to Palami the Philippines’ geographic location near the Pacific islander nations makes the transfer a distinct possibility, and chances of success are high.
“In OFC we only need to beat Tahiti and New Zealand and we are in the intercontinental playoff,” says Palami.
“That means we will be just two games away from the World Cup. That’s a lot easier than the three stages of the Asian Confederation.”
The Philippines bowed out of contention from the 2018 World Cup in Russia when they failed to get one of the top two slots in the qualifying group that ended last year. There is another gauntlet of group stage qualifying ongoing now, with China being the most recent casualty, it’s dream of Russia ending with a loss to Iran.
New Zealand are the top-ranked OFC side at 112 in the latest FIFA rankings, the only OFC nation ranked higher than the Philippines. Tahiti is the next-strongest Oceania nation at 149, 25 spots adrift from the Azkals. The third-and fourth ranked OFC teams are New Caledonia, (167), and Papua New Guinea, (170) whom the Azkals beat in a home friendly 5-0 in 2014.
According to Palami the head of the AFC, Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, is aware of the Philippines’ interest in the OFC and is understanding of our situation.
“Sheikh Salman sees that it is the ambition of every footballing country to play in the World Cup.”
The planned move to the OFC could pay dividends in the 2026 World Cup, which will expand to 40 teams. It is highly possible that OFC could be given a direct slot for the first time.
Of course the downside of departing from the AFC would be giving up the Suzuki Cup, the championship of the ASEAN Football Federation, the Philippines’ sub-confederation within the AFC.
“The Suzuki Cup is a great competition and it will be sad to no longer participate, but making the Wold Cup is everything for us.”
The team instead will compete in the OFC Nations Cup, which also doubles as the World Cup qualifier. New Zealand are the reigning champions of that tournament, which also features the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, and New Caledonia. Palami does not see this as a downgrade.
“The rising standard of football in the area means the Azkals will continue to be sharpened by competing against these tough Pacific Islander teams.”
The Philippines will begin closer ties with the OFC when they schedule matches against Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, and Pago-Pago in late December. The tour is provisionally dubbed “Azkals Pearly Shells Pacific Tour 2017.”
“This is a great development for Philippine football,” said Palami, “and we hope the Filipino football fans support us.”
He also added one more note.
“HAPPY APRIL FOOLS DAY!”