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playing away: a FIFA conspiracy?

October 28, 2009

he don't know football...
After the first leg of the World Cup Qualifying Playoff between New Zealand and Bahrain ended in a 0-0 stalemate in Manama, the New Zealand media – all but hapless when it comes to the rules of the beautiful game – have been struggling to come to terms with the workings of the actually-quite-simple away goals rule, which may well play a part on November 14th, when the decisive second leg will be played in Wellington.

For the past couple of weeks then the more football savvy of us in New Zealand have been explaining to those newly aboard the football bandwagon just how and why the away goals rule works. Annoyingly though, much of our hard work has now been undone by a swift and characteristic FIFA Change of Heart™ which has seen them rule that in contradiction of the workings of many previous FIFA tournaments, the away goals will continue to settle the tie after extra time.

Now I’m sure that most of you are aware that usually away goals count up until the normal time when, in the event that the teams still cannot be separated even by away goals, a period of “extra-time” is initiated. By its very concept this extra-time is quite distinct from the preceding 90 minute match and the first leg, and so it is usually the case that once extra-time is invoked, the away goals rule ceases to apply.

After all, the away goals rule is a concept that works on the assumption that scoring a goal away from home is somehow slightly more difficult than scoring at one’s own ground and thus rewards the team which has better equipped itself in these less comfortable surroundings. That each team gets an equal opportunity of one match ninety minutes in length to attempt to score these away goals that can act as match winners in circumstances of a draw seems only right and proper.

And yet now FIFA has seen fit to extend the period in which away goals can have this impact until the end of extra time, which in the context of the New Zealand vs. Bahrain playoff, gives the Asian nation an extra 30 minutes to score a decisive away goal if the scores remain at 0-0 after the normal time period of ninety minutes is exhausted. I think you’ll agree with me, that this seems to be distinctly unfair.

Some will argue that this extension of the away goals rule for 30 minutes in favour of the Bahrainis actually only serves to counteract the significant disadvantage that comes from having to play the extra 30 minutes away from home, but I disagree. As Sam Buckle points out, the so-called ‘home advantage’ that favours the Kiwis is nothing more than an “intangible, emotional” advantage and is easily outweighed by the “specific, technical” advantage provided to the away team by an extended away goals period.

It seems to me then that FIFA have clearly handed the advantage to Bahrain ahead of this qualifier, and when FIFA do something like that, the cynic in says that there has to be something in it for them. Let’s face it, FIFA are no strangers to controversy and already in the qualifying for next year’s World Cup they’ve courted plenty with the decision to seed the European playoffs, gifting the ‘big names’ of world football an easier draw and increasing the likelihood that they’ll make the finals.

And that’s what FIFA wants. They are after all a business that markets football as their commodity and it’s easier to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team mates than Shay Given and a bunch of pasty Irishmen. In the same vein, there is a far bigger market for football in Asia than there is in Oceania – the smallest federation by a mile – and the Asian sides are starting to kick up a fuss with the prospect of seeing Australia and New Zealand both deny Asian sides a spot in the finals.

There were protests when Australia were allowed to join Asia a few years ago, because it was obvious that the Socceroos would almost certainly claim one of the four automatic Asian qualification spots, restricting the chances of the actual Asian countries. And then the fifth place Asian qualifier also has to playoff against the winner of the Oceania stage to make it to the World Cup which means that if New Zealand defeat Bahrain only three Asian nations will be represented in South Africa next year.

It’s not an ideal system, that much is certain, but that’s no reason for FIFA to punish New Zealand by subtly altering the rules. It is their qualification system, they allowed Australia to join Asia and thus limit the opportunities for other Asian nations and they decreed that the fifth place Asian team would playoff against Oceania’s winner. By organising the qualification in that manner, they allowed for a situation like this one to occur, and so they shouldn’t be trying to backtrack now.

Yes, New Zealand’s route to South Africa does look pretty unimpeded with Australia now out of Oceania and yes Bahrain have already come through one playoff to reach this one. Yes, Bahrain are probably the better team and yes Asia probably deserves more than three representatives at the World Cup. But none of that matters. The rules of the tournament were set out and the qualification paths mapped beforehand.

New Zealand have got this far, and now they are desperate to make the last leap into the finals next year, as are Bahrain. If the sides are still locked at 0-0 after 90 minutes in Wellington then it’s clear that they are two even sides very well matched. If after 120 minutes the score is 1-1 then the same is still true and the sides have not been split in terms of footballing merit, and we must revert to penalties – never an ideal decider but in many ways if it gets that far then perhaps only pot-luck could dictate a winner.

That in reality FIFA have ruled that 1-1 AET will result in Bahrain’s qualification is nonsense. It is yet another example of FIFA pandering to the nations and federations which are seen to be ‘bigger’ or more important than others, and is quite frankly disgraceful. Qualification for the World Cup should rely on what happens on the pitch, not what takes place in banks and boardrooms and marketing departments in Switzerland.

In changing the away goals ruling FIFA have taken a financial decision to attempt to influence the outcome of a playoff match so as to bring about the greater financial benefit for themselves and to keep the Asian federation happy. In doing so, they’ve yet again undermined the integrity of the beautiful game that they are supposed to maintain and promote, and so although New Zealand already had my passionate support, they now have it doubly so.

A victory for New Zealand over Bahrain on November 14th would not only represent just desserts for a lot of hard work from the New Zealand team and coaching staff, but it would stand as one in the face of FIFA and their corruptions. I can just see Sepp Blatter’s disappointed face when news of a New Zealand victory filters through to his luxury apartment in Zurich, financed by the millions of dollars that we the fans put into the game. So let’s hope New Zealand can emerge victorious against all the odds, and lets hope Blatter loses plenty of sleep over it.

Like this? There’s plenty more where that came from at They Think It’s All Over…

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2009 5:12 am

    I saw this debate being held elsewhere and I think FIFA has really outdone themselves again in moving the goalposts. The prospect of facing an additional 30mins where the away goals count double is not one I would relish as I would rather be in Bahrain’s shoes.

    I fear that the All Whites will resort to parking the bus in front of goal and I really hope they don’t do this. I’m counting on Shane Smeltz and the Herbert-Phoenix connection to stuff a sock in Blatter’s face by racing to an early 2-0 lead, just so Blatter can get a heart attack by halftime.

    As a Socceroo fan, I never bothered myself with what happens to NZ football, but you can be sure come Nov 14, the gold and green will take a back seat, as I plan to watch a successful qualifying campaign for the All Whites!

  2. October 28, 2009 5:10 pm

    nutjob blatter at it again.. 1st the scandalous seedings for the european play-offs.. & now this.. AFTER the 1st leg has been PLAYED? funny this isn’t being made a big hoo-ha by the media, since i had no idea about this until i read it here.. fair play? yeah right..

  3. Barney permalink
    October 30, 2009 1:26 pm

    I agree with all of the above

    • leroy permalink
      November 13, 2009 10:28 am

      well wat abt the part where bahrain is playin away…is it not harder to score on away…actually i for one don see why it shud be there at all after extra time…rather in such a case the extratime shud not be there at all…in a period of 2 legs cos u look at agg and then if tht tallies u head straight to the penalties…which wud see to be fair to both the teams now…

  4. Maximus Roman Empire permalink
    November 20, 2009 5:35 pm

    it is obvious that sepp blatter is corrupt. i would say he is the biggest godfather on earth! he manages since years to keep himself at the top of fifa with adidas as main sponsor. this guy is worse than cancer or aids! unfortunatelly he manages to buy politicians and functionaries in all countrys. most of all with adidas money. just look back and see how many teams are using adidas and how many times there was always an adidas team in the finals!!! get i???? think about that, switzerland allows the “fifa” organization to be in switzerland as foundation! foundations do not pay taxes. what is mr. godfather doing with all the TAX FREE billions? buying games, referees and presidents of 3rd world countries with adidas money to keep his position in fifa.
    this is my believe!! and thanks good believes are not controled by anyone!

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  1. WDKF Wednesday: Playing Away – A FIFA Conspiracy? « They Think It's All Over…

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