Soccer: Uncertainty around Durante's NZ eligibility

By Michael Brown

Andrew Durante. Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Durante. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand Football might be reluctant to play Andrew Durante against New Caledonia in their crucial World Cup qualifier in Dunedin on Friday night and have urged Fifa to make a more definitive statement on his eligibility.

The Sydney-born 30-year-old recently earned New Zealand citizenship and Fifa have said they believe on the documentation they have seen he would be eligible to play for the All Whites but it was up to NZF to decide whether they took the risk and played him.

NZF have asked for a more definitive stance from the world governing body before handing Durante an All Whites debut, given so much is riding on Friday's match. A win over New Caledonia would see the All Whites win the Oceania group and progress to November's intercontinental playoff against the fourth-best team from North and Central America for a place at next year's World Cup.

The risk would be if a rival country appealed Durante's eligibility and won because any match he had played in would be an automatic 3-0 defeat for the All Whites.

One approach NZF might consider is, assuming they beat New Caledonia on Friday and qualify for the intercontinental playoff, select Durante against the Solomon Islands and hope his eligibility is called into question. This would force Fifa to investigate his eligibility and make a definitive ruling well ahead of any potential intercontinental playoff.

Fifa wrote to de Jong overnight to say they will look at the matter with some urgency.

"We feel he's met all the criteria and Fifa have given us a steer that, based on the evidence they have seen, he meets the criteria but they haven't said yes or no," NZF high performance manager Fred de Jong said.

"They are saying it looks OK but the ball is in our court. We have gone back and asked them to give us something more definitive than that. We think it looks OK but, because there is so much at stake, we would like you to come up with something more definitive and that's what we are waiting for now.

"If we don't get it by the weekend, then it's a decision around risk. Do you risk him for this game? At the moment we will wait and see. But if he played and someone questioned his eligibility, that would bring it to a head."

Durante was called into the Socceroos squad in February 2010 for Australia's Asian Cup qualification match against Indonesia but didn't play meaning it didn't affect his eligibility.

One area of concern, however, could be around the fact the Wellington Phoenix skipper spent a period with Sydney FC on a temporary contract during their Asian Champions League campaign in 2011, meaning he wasn't living in New Zealand. It takes five years for a player to become eligible for another country, as long as they haven't played senior international football.

"That's possibly open to interpretation in a legal sense and is it worth taking a risk to leave your World Cup qualification to legal interpretation," de Jong said. "I'm not sure it is."

Durante has joined the All Whites squad in Dunedin and, assuming he was eligible, would be a strong candidate to slot into a three-pronged defence following the retirement of former captain Ryan Nelsen.

- APNZ

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