The All Whites finally have clarity as their road to the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar has been secured. Michael Burgess outlines the details of the unique situation that approaches.
The All Whites' initial steps towards the 2022 Fifa World Cup have been set, with a qualification tournament in Qatar next March.
The Oceania Football Confederation met earlier this week to rubberstamp the unique proposal, which has needed signoff from both Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation.
The Herald understands it has since been confirmed.
Despite the challenges of Covid – which have made it impossible to host a qualifying tournament within the region – OFC have been determined to find a way to have an event and ensure their representative is found via football, rather than through a nomination based on world rankings.
Holding a tournament in the Middle East presents significant logistical challenges, especially in getting the teams from the Island nations to Qatar, but OFC are confident it can be done.
The games will be played during a portion of the March Fifa match window, which means that All Whites coach Danny Hay should have access to most of his players – for at least some of the time - though gaining their release with take negotiation.
The tournament will be spread across almost three weeks, so it is expected that OFC will try to negotiate an extended window with Fifa. That is not without precedent, as the South American confederation were recently granted an extended phase to allow three matches and recovery time within the September window.
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It had been initially planned that the Qatar tournament would be held in January 2022, which would have allowed the OFC representative to play some friendly matches in March.
But the timing has proved too tight.
It was originally hoped that the qualifying event could be hosted in New Zealand, but MIQ couldn't provide quarantine allowances for the competing nations (around eight teams are expected). Fiji and New Caledonia were at one point also seen as other host options, but that didn't prove feasible.
Eighteen days will be needed to stage the event, with two groups of four teams followed by semifinals and a final. It's not yet known if all Island nations will enter, due to the varied Covid regulations and travel policies of governments.
It will be a major logistical challenge for all countries, but especially the All Whites, with their players based across the globe. Due to MIQ requirements, it's unlikely coach Hay would be able to utilise any Wellington Phoenix or local players.
He will instead select from the group playing in the Europe and the United States, though availabilities will depend on quarantine requirements after returning from the Middle East.
The March date also means it may be hard to arrange preparation matches for the Oceania champion ahead of the Intercontinental playoffs, should they go ahead in June 2022 as forecast.