With the FIFA World Cup qualifiers going on, more and more teams are booking their ticket to Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup. The question arises once again, why aren’t all the soccer associations represented?
Twenty-one editions of the World Cup have been played throughout history–Oceanian teams have only participated in four. Due to the lack of exposure and level of playing, Oceanian teams have not been fully represented in the World Cup. Still, they do get an opportunity to get there through the intercontinental play-offs.
Throughout history, the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) has received a 0+1 berth to the World Cup, meaning they won’t have a representative or could have one if they qualify through the Intercontinental play-offs. The OFC has slowly increased the playing level in the field, but it does not compare much to how a South American nation would bring on the field.
Does it feel like a World Cup if not all associations are represented? To me, it isn’t. While we see history happen in front of our eyes, not many people get to experience that. The qualification process is brutal, and many good soccer nations have been left out; for example, Italy, which missed out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Italy again is on the verge of missing out as they failed to qualify directly in the FIFA World Cup European Qualifiers.
While the OFC used to have Australia represent most of the time, a decision was made and approved when Australia left the OFC to join the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2006. This was a massive upgrade from competition in Oceania as to what they would face in Asia, which is more competitive.
“In the Oceania qualifying zone, we were never really tested, and that is never good preparation for an all or nothing play-off,” AFC president Mohammed bin Hammam said.
The last participation from any OFC nation came at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where New Zealand qualified after beating Bahrain 1-0 in aggregate. Considerably, New Zealand went undefeated in their group stage participation after drawing their three games against Slovakia, Italy, and Paraguay. New Zealand failed to qualify to the Round of 16 but created history as they finished above defending champions Italy who only got two points.
The question remains, why aren’t all nations represented? For me, money will always call the shots. People will pay more to see a south American nation or an Asian nation over an Oceanian country. Therefore, there’s such a limitation to their World Cup appearance.
The 2022 World Cup has many spots left for the rest of the world. The OFC representative must still play an inter-continental play-off match with a rival yet to be determined. In September of this year, the OFC released an update on their qualification process to the World Cup.
“In response to logistical challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Oceania Football Confederation is exploring the opportunity to play the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – Oceania Qualifiers in Qatar early next year.”
Whether or not the OFC holds their qualification process in Qatar next year, realistically speaking, we may not see them go through the intercontinental play-offs Round.
To make it an actual World Cup, it needs to have representation from all associations no matter what. Luckily for the OFC, they may get that representative at the beginning of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, when the number of teams increases from 32 to 48. This will be the first time in World Cup history where all six confederations are represented.
In 2026, the World Cup will finally feel like a World Cup. After many, many years, a representative from the OFC will have a secured spot in it. Many years of patiently waiting for this decision when they should have already had a secured representative each time.