| Tuesday, December 17, 2002 11:30 EST
Oceania region gets Cup spot
MADRID, Spain -- A team from the Oceania region was assured
a spot in the next World Cup, and the United States' group is in
position to have an additional country in the tournament.
The decision by world soccer's governing body Tuesday was a
slight setback for Europe and South America in the 32-team field
for the sport's showcase event.
FIFA said at its meetings that the winner of Oceania's
qualifying round will go straight into the 2006 tournament in
Previously, the winner had to take part in a playoff. Australia,
which regularly wins the Oceania group, might now secure a World
Cup berth for the first time since 1974.
The other confederation to benefit is CONCACAF, representing
North and Central America and the Caribbean. It already was assured
three places but a fourth-place CONCACAF country now will play the
fifth-place Asian country to decide the 32nd and final spot.
Europe and South America each lost a chance to send an
additional team to the World Cup through a playoff. Europe has been
awarded 13 places and South America four.
There was no change for Asia, which has four spots plus a
possible team through a playoff. Africa will again have five
There will be 14 European nations competing in Germany, with 13
to go through qualifying. Fifteen European nations took part in
Japan and South Korea at the last World Cup.
The only team to automatically qualify is host Germany. This
time, defending champion Brazil must qualify.
Until now, the Oceania winner had to face a low-ranked team from
a tougher confederation in a home-and-away playoff to reach the
Oceania has been represented at the World Cup twice -- Australia
in 1974 and New Zealand in 1982. Australia lost in playoffs to Iran
in 1998 and Uruguay in 2002.
No playoff will be open to European teams. Ireland qualified for
the past World Cup by beating Iran in two games.
"It's not a question of who had to concede,'' Oceania president
Basil Scarsella said. "FIFA executives were united to see Oceania
get a spot. They realized that if we were going to be treated
seriously we needed an automatic place.''