SYDNEY: Australia will be confronting more than South Korea on pitch when they take to the pitch for the final of their own hosting of the final of the Asian Cup.
The bubble of football happiness threatens to be burst with confirmation from the Asian confederation’s own president that a number of its members want to kick Australia back down into Oceania.
Australia, ambitious to claim a greater and more competitve role on and off the pitch, left the Oceania confederation in 2006 to join Asia.
However the Socceroos’ success in claiming one of the AFC slots at the World Cup in Brazil last year has sparked irritated envy among some of the Gulf states at the other geographical extreme of the world game’s most far-flung confederation.
AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa has admitted to the antagonism in comments to a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. He said there was a growing feeling among Arab nations that Australia should be excluded, and added that “Arabs are not the only ones” seeking their removal.
Middle East nations, already concerned by the rise of China and world federation FIFA’s courtship of India, see their international opportunities increasingly diminished.
Salman, interviewed in Al-Ittihad, said: “Australia joined the AFC before I was elected as the president. At that time, the AFC general assembly made no resolution about re-assessing Australia’s membership to determine whether it will stay or be evicted.
“There are indications that prove that such desire exists among the confederations of west Asia to evict Australia. But I also know that the Arabs are not the only ones who are not convinced that Australia’s membership in Asia’s football is feasible.”
David Gallop, chief executive of Football Federation Australia, described the revelation as “extremely surprising.”
He said: “We are newcomers to AFC but our commitment to participate in competitions, membership of important AFC committees and general sharing of ideas and programs increases every year.
“We celebrate the diversity of the Asian region and this tournament has shown our contribution can go beyond football to create and foster social and political bridges between key trading partners in the region.”
Gallop said Australia contributed to the AFC economically and said membership of Asia would strengthen the links with teh rest of the continent.
“Importantly, Australia is also in the top five markets for television rights in the entire confederation. It has been educational for Australians and Australia’s multiculturalism has been on show. We have educated over 50,000 children about Asia through our Asian Cup primary school course.”