Fifa inquiry should finally bring clarification

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 24/06/2013
Andrew Durante
Photosport
ALL WHITES PROBED: The All Whites are being investigated for allegedly fielding an ineligible player in a World Cup qualifier.

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OPINION: Fifa's inquiry into All White Andrew Durante's eligiblity is no shock, horror probe. But why has it taken three months for football's glacial governing body to act on a complaint?

Australian-born Durante - who gained New Zealand residency on March 6 - made his All Whites debut in the dead-rubber Oceania World Cup qualifying tournament against the Solomon Islands in Honiara on March 26.

New Zealand Football officials had asked Fifa for a ruling on Durante's eligibility before their series-deciding match against New Caledonia in Dunedin on March 22. Durante even proved his Kiwi bona-fides by belting out the words to Slice of Heaven, Dave Dobbyn's Footrot Flats movie score as his All Whites' initiation song.

But there was zilch response from Zurich to NZF's clarification request. Coach Ricki Herbert wisely decided against fielding Durante and risk a penalty which may have potentially cost the All Whites a place in November's inter-continental playoffs.

But Herbert and New Zealand Football high performance manager Fred de Jong talked openly then about playing Durante in Honiara to force Fifa to make a ruling.

The Solomon Islands Football Federation dutifully played ball by filing a complaint to Fifa straight after the game. They may have done so with a nod and wink from NZF.

Chief executive Grant McKavanagh said at the weekend NZF "couldn't get certainty on [Durante's] eligiblity" but "saw [the Honiara game] as a time to get to the situation resolved".

Under Fifa rules, Durante meets two critical criteria for switching his allegiance. He is now a New Zealand citizen and he has never played for his native Australia. He was on the Socceroos' bench in February 2010 but never got any game-time.

The Wellington Phoenix captain has lived in New Zealand since February 2008. But Fairfax Media reported yesterday that a month-long loan stint with Sydney FC for the Asian Champions League in early 2011 could be a potential sticking point for Fifa.

It's always a gamble relying on Fifa for a common-sense ruling. But it's hard to imagine draconian action being taken against New Zealand.

If Fifa rule Durante was ineligible for the Solomons game the All Whites would lose the three points garnered from their 2-0 victory and could be fined. But they would still win the Oceania qualifying group by three points and would thus still be eligible for the playoff series with the fourth-ranked Concacaf (North America, Central America, Caribbean) nation.

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Fifa could hardly ping New Zealand for games Durante did not play.

But at least NZF will know if the 31-year-old qualifies can play in the November matches. Durante may still struggle to warble a word-perfect version of God Defend New Zealand but the All Whites may need him in the heart of their defence with longtime leader Ryan Nelsen retired and veteran Ivan Vicelich set to turn 37 in September.

Herbert can call on English premier league player Winston Reid, Ipswich Town stopper Tommy Smith and passionate Phoenix centreback Ben Sigmund. But Durante's cool head and distribution skills would be a decided asset. Just don't ask him to lead a haka.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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