KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The American territory of Northern Mariana Islands has made a key step toward joining FIFA by being recommended for membership in the Asian soccer confederation.

The Asian governing body says “the requirements for ordinary membership have been fulfilled by the NMI Football Association.”

The islands in the North Pacific have a population of about 52,000.

The Northern Mariana Islands soccer body has been an associate member since 2009, after leaving the Oceania region. Becoming the 47th full Asian member would grant rights to vote at the soccer body’s annual congress and receive development money.

Full membership of a continental body is mandatory before joining FIFA.

The 211 current FIFA members — including Kosovo and Gibraltar, which joined in 2016 — get $6 million from Zurich from each four-year World Cup commercial cycle. The smallest federations can get an extra $1 million for travel and equipment costs.

———

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.