Aussies join Asean football

Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop (Right)

Geographically, they are miles apart but, in the football world, Australia are - for all intents and purposes - a part of South-east Asia now.

In an extraordinary move, Football Federation Australia (FFA) was admitted as a full member of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) after a regional meeting in East Timor on Monday.

This means that the likes of Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy and the rest of the mighty Socceroos can participate in AFF competitions such as the Suzuki Cup, which Singapore won last year. But do not hold your breath.

For The Straits Times understands that Australia's move to enter AFF - by way of a unanimous vote by the federation's 11 members - was mainly for administrative and political purposes.

After joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, it was the last of the 47-member sides not aligned to one of four regional groups in the continental football organisation.

Having a strong footballing nation in ASEAN also boosts the region's standing on the global football map.

Previously, Australia had functioned as an "invited member" of the AFF, with participation in tournaments restricted to youth teams.

They are currently involved in the AFF Under-16 boys' championship in Myanmar and will also compete in the AFF women's and futsal championships later this year. It is learnt that Australia may attempt to secure a place at next year's Suzuki Cup to be co-hosted by Singapore and Vietnam.

But, if they gain entry, they are expected to send a reserve squad like they did at the recent East Asian Cup, where they finished fourth. Australia had been invited to the 10-team tournament, which Japan won.

The Football Association of Singapore said it understands that Australia will undertake "a phased approach" towards their participation in regional competitions.

Its spokesman added: "We believe that the inclusion of Australia will help raise the standards of football in the ASEAN region both on and off the field, and we look forward to working closely with them in the years to come."

In a statement, FFA chief executive David Gallop said it was honoured to join the AFF.

"We look forward to being an active member, and to contributing to the ongoing development and success of football in our region."

AFF secretary-general Azzuddin Ahmad noted that Australia "joins the other 11 countries of AFF as an equal".

Australia, who qualified for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup Finals from the Asian zone, are due to host the Asian Cup in 2015.

Led by former English Premier League stars Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton, they reached the final of the 2011 edition, losing 0-1 to Japan in extra time.

Meanwhile, in Naypyitaw, the Cubs lie third in Group B after drawing 1-1 with Malaysia and beating the Philippines 2-0. They face Indonesia on Tuesday and Laos on Thursday.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


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