Australia cries foul to Fifa

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The Independent Football

Australia's coach, Frank Farina, has criticised Fifa over the qualifying draw for the 2006 World Cup.

Football's world governing body announced on Thursday that the top team in the Oceania qualifying group, which Australia are favourites to win, will play the fifth-placed South American side for a place in the World Cup finals.

Fifa also said a second playoff would take place between qualifiers from the Asian and the Concacaf zones.

Farina told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the draw was unfairly stacked against Oceania and the playoff match-ups should have been randomly drawn.

"We were hoping that it would just be a fair draw like all the other groups, that it would be taken out of a pot, or a hat as we call it in Australia," Farina said.

"We can sit and complain about the whole thing, but the decision has been made. It's totally out of our control and we've just got to plan ahead and hope that we can prepare well enough."

Fifa's decision came almost exactly one year after it announced that the Oceania confederation, made up of Australia, New Zealand and various Pacific island states, would have direct entry to the 2006 finals instead of going through a play-off.

However, Fifa reversed its decision in June, prompting protests from Oceania.

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, said the decision had been changed because of New Zealand's poor performance at the Confederations Cup and the administrative problems of Soccer Australia.

However, Oceania officials rejected the complaints, saying the decision was driven by politics.

Australia have qualified only once for the World Cup, in 1974, and New Zealand did so eight years later.

Since then Australia have suffered several near-misses in World Cup qualifiers, including losing play-offs to Scotland, Argentina, Iran and Uruguay.