New Zealand Football are confident they have avoided a potential $10 million own-goal, despite Fifa opening disciplinary proceedings against them for fielding Australian-born Andrew Durante in a World Cup qualifier against Solomon Islands in March.
Durante played the full 90 minutes in the All Whites' 2-0 victory over the Solomon Islands in Honiara on March 23, with the Solomon Islands Football Federation filing a complaint to Fifa straight after the game that the Wellington Phoenix captain was ineligible to play.
Fifa have invited NZF to clarify their position on Durante before the matter goes before the organisation's disciplinary committee. NZF are preparing their submission, which they will send to Fifa this week.
NZF chief executive Grant McKavanagh said he was not concerned Durante's appearance against the Solomon Islands would jeopardise the All Whites' World Cup hopes at all.
"We were clear we had the process sorted out [and] that that wasn't going to be a risk," he told Sunday Star-Times.
Eligibility issues surrounded Durante leading up to the match. A New Zealand resident since March 6 this year, the Sydney-born 31-year-old appeared on the bench for the Australian national football team in February 2010, without playing. A month-long loan with Sydney FC for Asian Champions League in early 2011 appears another sticking point for Fifa.
Yet McKavanagh said NZF decided to play Durante in the dead rubber match against the Solomon Islands after securing the World Cup qualifying playoff against the fourth-placed CONCACAF team by finishing top of the Oceania group.
"We were uncertain about his situation," he said. "We couldn't get certainty on his eligibility - but at that stage, we had qualified for the inter-continental playoffs.
"We saw that as a time to get the situation resolved and time to get Andrew a chance to get out on the pitch."
A three-point penalty on New Zealand's qualifying points appears a potential penalty, although with the All Whites six points clear of their nearest competitors, New Caledonia, the position for two November playoff games looks safe.
Former All Whites defender Danny Hay described fielding Durante as a "calculated risk", but didn't think Fifa would come down overly harshly. He said Fifa would likely want to avoid the embarrassment of the current Confederations Cup, which has seen Oceania participant Tahiti destroyed 6-1 by Nigeria and 10-0 against Spain in Brazil.
"It will probably be a bit of a slap on the wrist and that's it. The bigger picture is we need Andrew Durante cleared before these big games. As long as that happens, I can't see it being too much of a major."
- Sunday Star Times
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