Sermanni upbeat as number-crunchers decide World Cup destiny

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Former Matildas turned Football Ferns coach Tom Sermanni says the time is right for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup to come to Australasia, insisting hosting the tournament will be a “game changer”.

Whilst last-minute number crunching continues ahead of the FIFA Council vote on Friday morning (AEST) to decide the destiny of the 2023 edition of the tournament, Sermanni’s confidence is high.

The native Scotsman, whose coaching resume also includes the USA, believes the exits of Brazil and Japan from the race have stacked the cards in favour of the Anzac bid, notwithstanding the vicissitudes for which FIFA is infamous.
 
Having coached Australia to the last eight at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, Sermanni, 65, knows well the magnitude of the prize at stake, telling The World Game: “I’ve become more confident as time has gone on.
 
“Maybe six weeks ago I wasn’t feeling quite so optimistic but things have moved in our favour since then.
“We had the best technical report (a score of 4.1 out of five to Colombia’s 2.8) and with Brazil and Japan pulling out I’m now feeling very upbeat about things.
 
“I know the people in Australia and New Zealand who’ve been working on this and they’re smart and experienced.
 
“I think the time is right - and the game - both men’s and women’s - in both counties needs something to kick it on at all levels. Hosting this tournament would be a game-changer for me.
 
“The sport needs a shot in the arm here and to bring a tournament like this down here could entice a whole new generation of girls to play the game at junior level.
 
“We need programs to develop better players, both in New Zealand and Australia.
 
“It’s an area that’s been deteriorating over the past five or six years.”
 
Depending on whose modelling you follow, the Trans-Tasman bid will either generate the 18-plus votes required with something to spare or the 35-strong FIFA Council’s verdict will go down to the wire.
 
The nine available votes from the AFC and Oceania are locked in - following the withdrawal of Japan - but beyond that predicting with any clarity how the cards will fall in Europe, Africa and Central America is tricky.
 
After the disaster of Australia picking up just one vote on its ill-fated attempt to host the 2022 men’s World Cup, nobody is taking anything for granted.
Australia & New Zealand FIFA 2023 Women's World Cup Bid Media Opportunity
The Matildas pose with FFA Chairman Chris Nikou, NZ Football President Johanna Woodand and FFA CEO James Johnson
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However one FFA insider believes Australia-NZ will split the five CONCACAF votes and the real battle with rival Colombia - which has the four-strong backing of CONMEBOL - will be fought out in Africa (CAF) and Europe, where 16 votes are up for grabs.
 
“It looks like it will come down to Europe and Africa to swing this thing one way or the other,” said the source.
“It’s not clear whether votes will be cast on a conscious type basis or as blocs.
 
“You’d expect every country to vote on its own but there has been some talk of UEFA looking to support Colombia perhaps to go against FIFA president Gianni Infantino (who has been a loggerheads with a faction within Europe over a raft of issues).
 
Infantino - who worked alongside FFA chief executive James Johnson in Zurich for six years - is expected to opt for the Antipodean tag-team.
 
“Africa is a bit of an unknown but you’d think we’d get at least two or three from UEFA.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her country is effectively free of active coronavirus cases.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
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It’s believed New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has become a potential secret weapon for the bid, working the phones to lobby federations believed to still be undecided.
 
Having coached New Zealand at France 2019, Sermanni is trying to rebuild the infrastructure of the women’s game after crashing out at the group stage.
 
He’s gratified the poll will be transparent, leaving no doubt in the final analysis who has backed who.
 
“Having an open vote is a good thing - and at least now you’ll know who’s told you the truth (on their intentions),” he added.
 
“We’re all in the business of trying to take the game to a different level in this part of the world.
 
“We need to see football on the front pages and this would accomplish that.
 
“In Australia, AFL and rugby league have started women’s competitions but football has the popularity and having a World Cup would only see that skyrocket.”