Football: Asia, Oceania in talks over combining World Cup slots

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - The Asian and Oceania football confederations have opened discussions about combining World Cup slots to improve their qualification chances at future tournaments, AFC president Sheikh Salman said.

Both regions suffered heavy defeats in the inter-continental play-offs for the 2014 World Cup last week with Oceania champions New Zealand thrashed 9-3 over two legs by Mexico, while the AFC's Jordan were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Uruguay.

Asia currently has four automatic qualifying berths for the World Cup, with the fifth-placed team going into an inter-continental play-off, while Oceania has no automatic spot and the champions must also go through a play-off.

Australia made the move to the AFC in 2006, which increased Asia's World Cup places to four and a half, and AFC president Sheikh Salman Ibrahim Al-Khalifa was open to incorporating the half slot from the OFC in some way.

"We had the Australians in but I think we should look at how we can combine our slots together," the Bahraini told reporters on the sidelines of the AFC Awards in Malaysia when asked if he wanted New Zealand to join the AFC.

"This is something that we are discussing with Oceania and hopefully there will be something on how those legs are to be played. Because geographically we are much closer."

New Zealand were Oceania's last representatives at a World Cup when they qualified by beating Sheikh Salman's Bahrain in a two-legged play-off for the 2010 Finals in South Africa.

That 1-0 aggregate success made New Zealand just the fourth OFC side to play at a World Cup after their first appearance in 1982 and Australia in 1974 and 2006.

Any possible move would require approval from Fifa, which conducted a draw to see which confederations would face off for the final places in Brazil 2014 with the AFC drawing Conmebol (South America) and OFC against Concacaf (North and Central America).

The world governing body's president Sepp Blatter, who sat alongside Sheikh Salman and OFC president David Chung at the awards, suggested earlier this month he wanted the play-off system scrapped, which appears to support the AFC-OFC move.

The 77-year-old Swiss has also said recently he wanted more World Cup places for Asia and Africa.

Sheikh Salman, who also hinted at revamping the World Cup qualifying format in Asia, said they had plenty of time to discuss any possible slot shifts with the 11-nation OFC.

"This is a decision that should be taken by Fifa as well about the half slot, but we will wait, we have time, but this is something that we should look at for the future," he said.

"So far this is just in the beginning stages. I think we need to look at the two continents as a whole, not just by inviting ... because what is going to be left from Oceania."

Earlier this month, Jordanian Football Association president Prince Ali Al Hussein had voiced his reservations about playing a South American side even before his team's 5-0 first-leg home defeat by Uruguay.

"It's a bit unfortunate," he had said. "The natural issue, for example, would be for the Asian fifth place to play the half slot from Oceania and Concacaf to play Conmebol but it is opposite.

"It is tiring, and within less than a week and you are crossing huge time zones so I don't know, I think we have to rethink that issue."