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Today, the Australian soccer team plays a match against Saudi-Arabia in the qualification rounds for the World Cup. Qualifications for the World Cup are usually organized per continent; e.g. Europe (the UEFA) has its own tournament where only European countries compete. Presumably, Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation and since then competes in the Asian qualifiers, but why did they make this move? I can think of a few reasons:

  • Better chance of qualification (Australia's home continent, Oceania, has only 'half a place' in the World Cup, the winner of the qualifiers needs to win another play-off against another country)
  • Better opposition during the qualification (this is actually mentioned on Wikipedia, but you can also play friendly matches against better teams)
  • They expected more income (tickets sold, TV broadcasting rights)

Are there any references for these possible reasons, and what was/were the decisive one(s)?

  • To address your second point, Australia already played friendlies against better opposition before the move. Switching to a stronger qualification route ensured that not only the friendlies, but also the World Cup qualifiers and the relevant confederation cup (ie the AFC Asian Cup vs the OFC Nations Cup) were against strong opposition. – studro Jun 8 '17 at 8:04
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Australia used to play under the Oceania Confederation. The confederation only gets half a berth per World Cup. This means that after the preliminary rounds, the top team gets to play a two-legged tie with another playoff qualifier. The Asian, African, Oceanic confederations, as well as the CONCACAF, each get a playoff seed. The four teams qualifying from the listed confederations are randomly split into 2 pairs, and the winner of each pair gets a spot in the World Cup. All other confederations are given guaranteed spots as well.

Australia was the best team in the confederation throughout the years and often got the half berths. However, they didn't do well in the playoff matches. Australia had a 32 year hiatus from the World Cup ranging from 1974 to 2006. This was because they lost the playoff series in 1986, 1994, 1998, 2002 (Additionally, they also lost in 1966 and 1970 before their first appearance in the World Cup). Most of these losses were very close, and soon Australia got a reputation for having near misses. The Socceroos finally tasted World Cup playoffs victory against Uruguay to qualify for Germany's 2006 World Cup. Not surprisingly, after 2 games, the teams were tied, and Australia won in the penalty shootouts.

After many failed attempts to qualify for the World Cup, Australian Football Federation began talks to join Asian Confederation in 2005. Playing under the Asian bracket, they had a chance to secure one of the 4 guaranteed spots for the World Cup and avoid bad luck and drama that haunted them for more than 30 years.

The switch has proven to be a great decision for the Socceroos as they have been able to claim one of the guaranteed Asian spots for every World Cup since then, as well as winning the AFC Asian Cup in 2015.

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Australia also switched for better competition. Against OFC minnows, their best players often didn't show up for national team games. They wouldn't leave their club teams for national team games, which meant the team lacked cohesion come those playoff games. With tougher Asian competition (especially Japan, South Korea, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia), they play together more often and have to play better to qualify.

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