Articles related to OCEANIA 2006 WC qualifiers:
Preview Apr 25, 2004
Preview May 27, 2004
Update May 30, 2004
Update Jun 2, 2004
Update Jun 4, 2004
Update Jun 6, 2004
Wrap-up Jun 28, 2004
Update Sep 4, 2005
Wrap-up Sep 19, 2005
Preview Nov 8, 2005
Update Nov 13, 2005
Update Nov 16, 2005
Preview: OCEANIA qualifiers, Stage 1
by Paul Marcuccitti
Welcome to the South Pacific folks. Do you feel like following some
amateur soccer or would you rather work on that tan while sitting/lying
on a spectacular island beach facing crystal clear water with a cool
drink next to you and a row of palm trees behind you?
Yes, I knew you'd go for the soccer. The first phase of Oceania's World
Cup qualifiers is imminent. Why wait for the Czechs battling with the
Dutch again when you know that soon the "French derby" between Tahiti
and New Caledonia could be pivotal to who advances from Oceania Group 1?
Ahhh, now did I mention Tahiti and New Caledonia? Where are their seats
at the United Nations again? Can't find them?
You have to be a fully independent nation to get into the UN but both
are overseas territories of France. This is precisely why
Blatter/Havelange (can't remember exactly who said it and don't really
care) was able to boast that FIFA has more members than the UN. You
don't get into the UN unless you're a fully independent nation. But FIFA
will take you.
In fact, four of the 12 teams in the up-coming Oceania qualifiers are
not fully independent nations. Cook Islands is an "associated territory"
of New Zealand and the name "American Samoa" is a bit of a giveaway.
Oceania isn't alone. CONCACAF has even more members that aren't
independent nations. Asia has some (e.g. Guam, Palestine) and in Europe,
our old friends, the Faroe Islands, are not completely severed from
And I'm not saying that's a bad thing. By all means, let everyone take
part. But, allowing them in means more minnows. Oceania is not short of
minnows and we haven't always dealt with them particularly well. You
probably know about the carnage that resulted from the last series of
World Cup qualifiers (Australia 31 American Samoa 0). However, I'm not
sure what the answer is. Is it silly to expect teams like American Samoa
to play Australia or is it unfair to deny them the chance to? (Perhaps
we should just ask them.)
The system in place for the first stage of Oceania World Cup qualifiers
is a definite improvement from the one used in the 2002 cycle. (But I
can't say I'm entirely happy about the merging of the qualifiers and the
Oceania Nations Cup.) I won't go into it too deeply as The Great
Goldstein has already covered it. Simply, the 10 countries that aren't
Australia or New Zealand are in two groups of 5 and the two top teams
from each group join the "big two" in a second stage group of 6. Each
group is being played in a single country and every team will play once
against each of its group rivals (Group 1 is in the Solomon Islands,
Group 2 is in Samoa; the second stage group of 6 teams will be in
If you're not from Oceania, you might be wondering why some of our
minnows rarely seem to put up the type of gritty underdog performance
that you more often see from Liechtenstein, the Faroese, etc. Briefly,
the reasons include: tiny populations (in some cases, quite scattered
around lots of different islands); soccer not being the most popular
sport; and poor development/infrastructure (though, in recent years,
there has been some real progress on this front).
At least one of those three applies to all of the 10 teams which are
about to do battle in the first phase of the Oceania qualifiers. In many
of those countries, at least two of the "problems" apply. [I only say
"problems" with reference to fielding a competitive soccer team seeing
as having a tiny population or soccer not being the most popular sport
might not be deemed a problem in downtown Apia (capital of Samoa) or
Nuku'alofa (capital of Tonga).]
So here's a quick geography lesson which will, hopefully, go a long way
to helping you understand the standard that each national team will
normally have. I'll start with the countries in Group 1:
Tahiti (French Polynesia) - An overseas territory of France; strong
soccer culture; population of 262,000; even by South Pacific standards
it's quite remote (it's the Oceania Confederation's easternmost
country). FIFA Ranking = 135 (3rd in Oceania).
Solomon Islands - Became independent from the United Kingdom in 1978;
soccer is quite popular; population of 509,000; in recent years, it has
been a rather unstable country. FIFA Ranking = 154 (5th in Oceania).
New Caledonia - Another overseas territory of France with a strong
soccer culture; population of 210,000; still not a full member of FIFA
but it's probably just a matter of time. Not yet eligible for a FIFA
Tonga - Independent from United Kingdom in 1970; rugby is the sport of
choice (probably because of relative proximity to New Zealand and its
territories); population of 108,000; over 30 inhabited islands. FIFA
Ranking = 185 (9th in Oceania).
Cook Islands - An associated territory of New Zealand so,
unsurprisingly, rugby is the main game; population of just 21,000; the
Cook Islands are also very remote and, to complicate matters further,
there are big distances between islands. FIFA Ranking = 191 (10th in
And in group 2:
Fiji - Independent from United Kingdom in 1970; both rugby and soccer
are very popular and can be accommodated by a population of 868,000; has
had some strong soccer links with Australia over the years. FIFA Ranking
= 150 (4th in Oceania).
Vanuatu - Independent from United Kingdom and France in 1980; strong
soccer culture; population of 200,000 scattered over more than 90
islands. FIFA Ranking = 162 (6th in Oceania).
Papua New Guinea - Independent from Australia in 1975; both codes of
rugby and Australian Rules football are popular so soccer suffers a bit;
population of 5,295,000 (more than New Zealand) but quite divided
geographically. FIFA Ranking = 178 (7th in Oceania).
Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) - Independent from New Zealand in 1962
and it's a very strong rugby nation (though some genuine soccer
development has taken place in recent years); population of 178,000.
FIFA Ranking = 181 (8th in Oceania).
American Samoa - Unincorporated territory of the United States and,
unsurprisingly, these Samoans like basketball, American football and
baseball (but, strangely, not ice hockey); population of 70,000. FIFA
Ranking = 203 (out of 204 countries; as you know, Montserrat is 204).
(11th and last in Oceania).
The order the teams are listed in (in each group) is the same order they
have been seeded in so, in theory, each group is listed from strongest
Now, just a quick word on the "rugby" countries in this group. Samoa and
Fiji are in international rugby's top dozen teams (and Tonga isn't too
far behind). And while rugby superpowers like England, Australia and New
Zealand would normally beat Samoa and Fiji, the big guns would never
take the islanders lightly. (Indeed, Samoa, a former Rugby World Cup
quarter-finalist, was leading England with just 15 minutes remaining in
their match at last year's World Cup; England went on to win the
tournament.) Make no mistake, these guys are good.
But the down side of that, of course, is a less competitive Oceania
confederation where our sport is concerned. The imbalances in Oceania
don't do anyone in the zone any good - they just create the kind of
problems I've mentioned in various articles on this site.
Slowly things might be changing. There is noticeable improvement in
various parts of the South Pacific and, later on when I talk about key
players, you'll see that many of the teams have at least one
up-and-coming star teenager and several other promising youngsters.
(Scouts will, no doubt, be watching.) If nothing else, the May
qualifiers will be an excellent indication of how far the smaller
countries have progressed over the last three or four years.
Well, enough of an introduction. Finish that cocktail, dust the
sparkling grains of sand off your feet, fold up those sunglasses and
join me in the serious business of predicting which four countries will
join Australia and New Zealand in the next stage.
In terms of finding the two teams that will succeed in each group, the
more difficult to predict is Group 1. Tonga has very little chance of
finishing in the first two and the Cook Islands did not even compete in
either the 2002 Oceania Nations Cup or last year's South Pacific Games -
never a good sign. But the other three teams are quite hard to separate.
Tahiti came within minutes of upsetting Australia at the 2002 Oceania
semi-finals but has more recently been overshadowed by the surging New
Caledonians (which defeated Tahiti 4-0 at last year's South Pacific
Games). The Solomon Islands aren't too far behind the French duo
(perhaps not at all) and also have the advantage of hosting the group;
every match will be a home match for the Solomons.
I'm going to predict a bit of a surprise here and say the Tahitians will
be squeezed out. It would be a real blow for the country that finished
3rd (behind New Zealand and Australia) at the last Oceania Nations Cup
(and is Oceania's 3rd best team according to FIFA's rankings). But I
expect New Caledonia's recent good form to continue and that the
Solomons will gain enough home advantage to take second spot and win a
ticket to the next stage in Australia. Just to prove I'm a true lunatic,
I'm even going to predict how many points each team will finish with:
New Caledonia 4 10
Solomon Islands 4 8
Tahiti 4 7
Tonga 4 3
Cook Islands 4 0
You can probably see that I'm anticipating that: New Caledonia will beat
Tahiti; the Solomon Islands will draw with both; all three will win
their matches against Tonga and the Cook Islands; and Tonga will win the
basement battle. The first match between any of the top three teams is
New Caledonia v Tahiti and I suspect that will also be advantageous to
the Solomons. They will know exactly what's required when it's their
turn against their biggest group rivals.
Group 2 looks a little more straightforward. More often than not, Fiji
is the best non-Australia-or-New-Zealand team in Oceania and I expect
the Fijians to qualify for the second stage. But Vanuatu will push them
very hard and is the most likely team to join Fiji in Australia for the
Normally you'd say that should be that. But there's a wild card here -
Samoa is a big improver and the host for this group. I doubt the Samoans
will gain enough from their home advantage to finish in the group's top
two but I certainly wouldn't rule it out. Still, I'm going to predict a
fairly clear cut outcome here:
Fiji 4 12
Vanuatu 4 9
Samoa 4 6
Papua New Guinea 4 3
American Samoa 4 0
The Fijians had a shocking (by their standards) Oceania Nations Cup in
2002 but last year they bounced back with victory at the South Pacific
Games. It seems to be a little-known fact but Fiji once defeated
Australia - and in a World Cup qualifier (in 1988). Australia recovered
as it was a two-legged affair and the Socceroos recorded a 5-1 win in
the second (and home) leg. The only other upset of that magnitude in
Oceania World Cup qualifiers was Papua New Guinea's 1-0 win over New
Zealand in 1997 (the Kiwis also recovered and eventually reached the
traditional Oceanic Final against Australia). I'd be surprised to see
similar heroics from PNG this time around.
I'm yet to mention any of the players taking part. Who are the stars?
Are certain players going to make a difference in games between
In Group 1, Tahiti will be looking to the experience of midfielders Teva
Zaveroni - scorer of the goal which so nearly downed Australia in the
2002 Oceania Nations Cup - and Tetahio Auraa. Striker Felix Tegawa is
also a fine player with experience in Australia's National Soccer
League. His partnership with Naea Bennett will be crucial to Tahiti's
chances. I'll personally be interested in the selection of goalkeeper.
Xavier Samin is remembered for the blunder that allowed Australia to
score a late equaliser in that famous 2002 encounter but his heroics
were largely responsible for keeping the Socceroos scoreless until then.
More recently, Daniel Tapeta has been preferred.
The Solomons are certainly not lacking in attack. Indeed, if their "fab
four" of Henry Fa'arodo, Commins Menapi, Batram Suri and Alick Maemae
all fire, I'm certain they'll reach the second stage in Australia. All
except Maemae have played in Australia's NSL - he's still a teenager and
an outstanding prospect. Suri is a veteran (and Maemae's cousin) and
Menapi also has plenty of experience. Fa'arodo is arguably the Solomons'
best player but he was disappointing at last year's South Pacific Games.
I bet the New Caledonians wish they could select Christian Karembeu but,
unfortunately, they can't. (Though here's a thought: if/when they become
a full FIFA member, could they argue that Karembeu is eligible to
represent them on the grounds that when he was selected for France,
playing FIFA sanctioned matches for his native New Caledonia was
impossible?) Nevertheless, this is a very well balanced side. Captain
Jean-Marc Case expertly leads New Caledonia's strong defence and Pierre
Wajoka is an experienced midfielder/forward in a team that has plenty of
goal-scoring potential. Michel Hmae and Ramon Djamali are New
Caledonia's aces - both are strikers who have dominated in the more
competitive Tahitian League.
Tongan goalkeeper Kavakava Manumua starred in this year's Oceania
Olympic qualifying tournament. Unfortunately, he's likely to be
extremely busy if he's given the No. 1 jersey next month. Ipeni Fonua is
a very good midfielder/forward and Unaloto Feao is a handy striker.
We haven't seen much of the Cook Islands lately but they were at the
Olympic qualifiers where Tuka Tisam emerged as a fine prospect. They're
likely to field a young and inexperienced team but, hopefully, the Cook
Islands' promising results at youth level will be repeated in future
In group 2, Fiji will be expecting a lot from the magnificent Masis.
Esala Masi is Fiji's star Australian-based striker and, arguably, the
best player likely to be involved in Stage 1 of the Oceania qualifiers.
His cousin, Manoa Masi, is an excellent midfielder. Versatile youngster
Ratu Veresa Toma, midfielder Salesh Kumar and the promising Thomas
Vulivuli all add extra class to this side. Teenage striker Osea
Vakatalesau is tipped to have a bright future but I'm not sure he'll win
a spot in the starting line up just yet. The Fijian defence might be a
little suspect but it's unlikely to jeopardise a safe passage to Stage
Vanuatu's defence is usually quite good and expertly led by Graham
Demas. He might have the job of marking Esala Masi when Vanuatu plays
Fiji. Richard Iwai, currently playing in Australia, should be one of
Vanuatu's main scoring threats and Seimata Chilia and Etienne Mermer
(also Australian based) will be key players in the Vanuatu midfield.
There will be big interest in teen sensation Jean Emmanuel "Victor"
Maleb (and, no, not just because he has an excellent name). Young Maleb
is a strong and speedy striker and last year he was given a two-week
trial by English Premier League club, Southampton.
If your surname is "Davani", there is a fair chance you'll be an
important part of Papua New Guinea's team. John Davani is the coach; his
son Reginald Davani is a key forward with experience in New Zealand's
national league; and Alex Davani (Reg's younger brother) will be an
important part of PNG's midfield (which will probably be built around
the more experienced Richard Daniel). Another midfielder, Chique Posman,
might also figure. He is one of this region's many teenage prospects.
Coach Davani has also recalled defender Joe Aisa, a former captain of
the national team. Aisa retired as a national team player two years ago
so either Davani means business ... or he's desperate.
Host Samoa also has a teenage sensation - and this guy is a story. The
name is Desmond Fa'aiuaso. He played as a 16 year old in the 2001
Oceania World Cup qualifiers and scored four goals in an 8-0 win over
American Samoa; he has been the leading scorer in Samoa's league for
four consecutive seasons; last year he captained (yes, at his age) the
Lepea club to victory in both Samoa's Premier League and its cup
competition; and in January he starred in Samoa's much improved
performance in Oceania's Olympic qualifiers. But here's the really
amazing bit: a few weeks ago, Fa'aiuaso was representing Samoa again ...
as a rugby player! In one of rugby's popular 7-players-a-side
tournaments in Hong Kong, he debuted with three tries in a match against
Chinese Taipei. (Just to remind you of the Samoans' rugby pedigree,
they're currently in 6th place in this year's international Rugby 7s
series - ahead of France and Australia.) A rugby correspondent watching
the match asked if he might be a (rugby) star in the making! And,
apparently, Samoa's national soccer coach didn't even know that
Fa'aiuaso was in Hong Kong playing international rugby - he found out
reading a local newspaper. (Presumably, on the following day, Sven Goran
Eriksson turned on his television and saw David Beckham playing cricket
for England in the Caribbean.) I hope Fa'aiuaso sticks with our sport
and lines up for his country next month (but remember not to tackle
rugby-style, Des, you might get sent off). Other players that will
feature for Samoa include Michael Toleafoa (a handy foil for Fa'aiuaso
at the Lepea club) and Ben Timo, another fine goal scorer. Pasi
Schwalger is a very good goalkeeper currently playing his soccer in
I hope that one day I can talk about star players in American Samoa but
if I did so now the men in big white coats would probably come and take
me away. As in most of the South Pacific countries, a lot of youth
development has recently taken place in American Samoa but it will be a
while before we see any results. The key position in any American Samoa
team is goalkeeper and the No. 1 custodian Nicky Salapu isn't bad - even
though he once conceded 31 goals in a single match. Duane Atuelevao is
likely to be the pick of American Samoa's outfielders.
So there you have it, the teams and players who will soon be striving to
become kings of the South Pacific. Stage 1 of the Oceania qualifiers
concludes on 19 May and, at that point, I'll give you an update along
with a preview of Stage 2. The great news is that Stage 2 is being
played in Adelaide, Australia - hometown of yours truly - so I'll be
able to report to you straight from the touchline!
I don't know if any of you, the readers, would be daft enough to
contemplate betting on the basis of my predictions and, even if you are,
I doubt you'll find a website offering markets on the first phase of
Oceania qualifiers. But, hey, if you do find odds on Tahiti v New
Caledonia, how many goals American Samoa will concede, etc, please send
me the link!
Now, where's that beach towel?
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