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: OFC qualifiers, Stage 2 & Stage 1 summary
by Paul Marcuccitti
It's autumn in Adelaide, Australia and it's a beautiful time of the year
here. Earlier today, I walked my little dog on the tree-lined footpaths
of the city's quiet eastern suburbs. The sky is cloudy, it's about 16
degrees (Celsius) and there's a bit of wind around. Alfie (my dog) and I
have enjoyed kicking our way through the fallen leaves.
For all the fun I had painting a picture of tropical bliss in the South
Pacific in my preview of Stage 1 of the Oceania qualifiers, it's the
cooler weather that I really enjoy. Adelaide is a place where you really
feel the change in seasons. The summers are dry and hot (a few summer
days are up and around 40 C); the winters are cool.
The truth is that we're a world away from the South Pacific. Adelaide
isn't even on the Pacific Ocean and, although the eastern cities of
Sydney and Brisbane face our Oceania friends a bit more directly,
they're still a long, long way away. New Caledonia is nearly 1500
kilometres across the sea from Brisbane. Tahiti is over 5000 kilometres
away. Neighbours? I think not.
If Australia's remoteness in the world places obstacles in the way of
matching European and South American countries on the soccer pitch, the
remoteness of the South Pacific island nations doesn't help them to
compete with Australia. We might be David in the world of soccer but
we're Goliath in Oceania.
There are no easy answers to the problems presented by our
confederation's unique set of circumstances. But at least we're about to
get our best ever indication of the relative standard of Oceania's
teams. That's because of the improved format of this year's Oceania
qualifiers. Instead of splitting the teams up into two groups where,
inevitably, Australia and New Zealand each play one or two
semi-challenging matches and thrash the other minnows, the "big two" are
in a single group with the best of the rest. The single group will allow
us to better understand how each team is placed in terms of performance,
It's hard to describe how fortunate I feel to have World Cup qualifiers
in my home city. It may not be awfully exciting for a lot of Adelaide
residents - even soccer fans who might see this part of the
qualification series as a formality on the road to the eventual crunch
matches against (insert whichever team you think will finish 5th in
But I'm over the moon! One of the two Adelaide venues for these matches
is just over a kilometre from both the office I work in and the first
house I lived in. The World Cup mountain is, quite literally, coming to
Mohammed. (However, I do realise that I'm not exactly going to be the
envy of soccer fans in Munich, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.)
In his book, Down Under, that travel-loving American author, Bill
Bryson, wrote, "Adelaide is the most overlooked of Australia's principal
cities. You could spend weeks in Australia and never suspect it was
there, for it rarely makes the news or gets a mention in anyone's
conversation. It is to Australia essentially what Australia is to the
world - a place pleasantly regarded but far away and seldom thought
Seeing as most soccer fans around the world could just about describe
Stage 2 of the Oceania World Cup qualifiers in a similar way, perhaps
it's appropriate that sleepy Adelaide was selected for this part of the
Of course, there is a reason why relatively few people seem interested
in the coming week's action: everyone expects Australia and New Zealand
to get through to Stage 3 of this series (by finishing in the group's
top two). And, yes, that will probably happen.
Just for a moment, though, imagine if it doesn't. Imagine if Australia
finished 3rd in this group. We'd be out of the 2006 World Cup, out of
the Oceania Nations Cup (as that competition has been merged with the
World Cup qualifiers) and we'd even be out of next year's Confederations
Cup. It would be regarded as the biggest disaster in Australia's soccer
history (and we've sure had a few). But if everything goes to plan,
Stage 2 will be what everyone expects - the necessary, predictable
starting point of Australia's road to a November 2005 showdown with a
team that can play.
Before I start to preview Stage 2, a wrap on Stage 1 in the Solomon
Islands and Samoa.
I'll keep this short because I couldn't see any of the matches and I can
only rely on a few brief match reports. As I predicted, the Solomon
Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji qualified for the series in Adelaide but
Tahiti also made it (at the expense of New Caledonia - which I felt
might win Group 1). Here's a comparison between my Group 1 prediction
and the outcome:
P Pts P Pts
New Caledonia 4 10 Solomon Islands 4 10
Solomon Islands 4 8 Tahiti 4 8
Tahiti 4 7 New Caledonia 4 7
Tonga 4 3 Tonga 4 3
Cook Islands 4 0 Cook Islands 4 0
Funny how the two points columns are identical but the order of teams
isn't. But we did know that there wasn't much between the top three here
and someone had to miss out. Ultimately the group's outcome was
determined by three pivotal games: the first was a scoreless draw
between Tahiti and New Caledonia and, later, Solomon Islands recorded a
decisive 2-0 win over the New Caledonians. On the final day, Tahiti
played the Solomons and needed a point to get through (a win to the
Solomons would have eliminated Tahiti because Tahiti's goal difference
wasn't as good as New Caledonia's). Fortunately for the Tahitians, the
Solomons had already qualified for Stage 2 with 3 wins; even more
fortunately, the Solomons were wasteful in front of goal. So Tahiti
grabbed a 1-1 draw and qualification. If I was wrong to predict that the
Tahitians would be eliminated, I was right to think that they're not
quite in the same shape they were in 2002 when they famously scared
Australia. It does appear as if they scraped through.
The Solomons are the real story here. Depending on which websites you
read, the other three teams that advanced from Stage 1 have all recently
been described as "the third best team in Oceania". But it was the
Solomons that were most convincing in Stage 1. They did have the
advantage of hosting the group so it will be interesting to see if their
form holds in Australia.
After reaching the Final of last year's South Pacific Games, the New
Caledonians would have to be disappointed with this effort. They
actually scored more goals than any of the other teams in Group 1 but,
ultimately, they would have been fortunate to qualify for Stage 2 with
just a draw and a loss in the two matches against their main group
rivals. New Caledonia has just been accepted as FIFA's newest full
member and hopefully that's some consolation.
Now for the comparison between my Group 2
prediction and the outcome:
P Pts P Pts
Fiji 4 12 Vanuatu 4 10
Vanuatu 4 9 Fiji 4 9
Samoa 4 6 Papua New Guinea 4 7
Papua New Guinea 4 3 Samoa 4 3
American Samoa 4 0 American Samoa 4 0
I definitely underestimated the Papua New Guineans but they are, after
all, Oceania's greatest enigma. In its opening match, PNG led Vanuatu
until an injury time equaliser gave Vanuatu a share of the points. A
late goal also denied PNG a draw against Fiji. How costly those goals
were for Australia's northern neighbour!
The Fijians, like the Solomon Islands, ensured qualification for stage 2
by winning their first three matches so, when they played Vanuatu on the
final day, they could afford to lose (though they'd have to be a bit
worried by the final score of 0-3). Indeed, like Tahiti, Vanuatu needed
at least a point from its last match to qualify.
Samoa was a bit of a disappointment - outclassed by all its opponents
except for hapless American Samoa. But guess what? None of the Samoan
players I mentioned in my Stage 1 preview actually played. (Not even the
extraordinary Desmond Fa'aiuaso who, I fear, will find a future playing
rugby.) For various reasons, player availability is one of the great
So what happens now in Stage 2? Can any of the tropical islanders knock
over Australia or New Zealand? Remember, the top 2 teams in this group
will get everything: passage to the Final of the Oceania Nations Cup
(the winner of which will reach the Confederations Cup); and passage to
the home-and-away Final of the Oceania qualifiers for the 2006 World
Cup. Teams 3,4,5 and 6 will be out of the lot.
Australia isn't likely to stumble. The Socceroos are better prepared for
these qualifiers than they have been for more difficult qualifiers in
the past. Two recent games against Turkey will have been invaluable and,
although the Aussies lost both matches, a lot of second-choice players
looked more than adequate in the absence of a number of first-choice
members of the team. Depth - very important with such a cramped match
schedule - will be an asset for the Socceroos. No Harry Kewell or Mark
Viduka? Fine. Step up Napoli's Max Vieri (yes, brother of Christian),
1860 Munich's Paul Agostino, etc. Australia's midfield options include
Vince Grella (Empoli), Brett Emerton (Blackburn), Stan Lazaridis
(Birmingham), Josip Skoko (Genclerbirligi, Turkey), Tim Cahill
(Millwall) and the in-form Marco Bresciano (Parma). The Socceroos should
dominate the middle of the park against the other Stage 2 teams.
New Zealand, on the other hand, might just be a little vulnerable. The
All Whites haven't played an international this year and their
inspirational captain, Ryan Nelson (DC United, USA), is in doubt for the
opening match. They're also making what might be interpreted as
pre-emptive excuses by accusing Australia of "rigging" the draw (because
New Zealand's first three matches are against Australia and the two
group winners from Stage 1). The Kiwi officials didn't exactly explain
why this was a problem and, as the four teams from Stage 1 are fairly
evenly matched, it shouldn't be. Like Ryan Nelson, All White midfielders
Duncan Oughton and Simon Elliott are based in the United States (both
with Columbus Crew). But the most important player in the middle of the
park is likely to be the talented Ivan Vicelich (Roda JC, Netherlands).
The Kiwis might struggle up forward, especially against Australia.
Ironically, it will be two players from Australia's National Soccer
League who might have to provide the All Whites' goals - veteran Vaughan
Coveny (South Melbourne) and young striker Shane Smeltz. As an Adelaide
United player, Smeltz will feel right at home.
But for New Zealand to be knocked out by one of the Stage 1 qualifiers,
I'd expect there'd have to be a real standout among those teams. And
there just isn't one. I can imagine, say, the Fijians holding New
Zealand to a draw after dropping points to the Solomon Islands - thereby
keeping the Kiwis in the top two. The "big two" are also favoured by the
tight schedule. Each team has to play 5 matches in 9 days and it'll be
Australia and New Zealand, with their greater squad depths, which will
cope better with those demanding arrangements. (Adjusting to Adelaide's
current cold weather might also be difficult for the boys from the
I'm not going to predict any surprises and, this time, I'm not game
enough to predict a final points table either. Solomon Islands, Vanuatu,
Fiji and Tahiti are very evenly matched. Here, at least, is my
prediction for the group's finishing order when Oceania Stage 2
concludes on 6 June:
2 New Zealand
3 Solomon Islands
Plus, I'll say that Australia will defeat New Zealand 2-0 on the opening
night (Saturday, 29 May).
And I'll be there to see it - and report back to you. Fantastic!
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