Soccer: Change of refs for big games

By Terry Maddaford

Asian Confederation officials will control All Whites' next World Cup qualifiers.

Chris Killen of the All Whites collides with goalkeeper Mikael Roche of Tahiti. Photo / Getty Images
Chris Killen of the All Whites collides with goalkeeper Mikael Roche of Tahiti. Photo / Getty Images

Oceania Football Confederation bosses have moved quickly to ensure there will be no repeat of the nasty incidents which marred the All Whites' 3-0 win over Tahiti in Christchurch on Tuesday night.

It was always planned that referees from the Asian Confederation would control the last games in the World Cup qualifiers but that will now be brought forward to the penultimate round as well, in which New Zealand will host New Caledonia - at a venue yet to be decided - in what shapes as the crucial match of the four-team Oceania play-off.

The All Whites have a perfect four-from-four record heading into the game with New Caledonia, who sit three points behind New Zealand and need to win to keep their hopes alive.

OFC general-secretary Tai Nicholas said yesterday that it had always been planned for the referees to exchange, but reports from Tahiti (for New Zealand's away game on Saturday) and what was seen in Christchurch had forced their hand.

"We have to find the best available officials who must be totally neutral," said Nicholas. "In Oceania we have two trios [referee plus two assistants] who have been involved at Fifa tournaments but one of these is from Tahiti, the other from New Zealand."

Tahitian Norbert Hauata and New Zealand's Peter O'Leary, along with their assistants, are regarded as Oceania's best, but with them ruled out for games involving their two countries, the OFC referees' panel appointed Bruce George (Vanuatu) and Solomon Islander Gerald Oiaka for the two matches.

Both found the step up beyond them and struggled with some decisions, leading to frustration for players and coaches.

Oiaka raised the ire of the New Zealand camp with his handling of the match, particularly the incidents at the end of play and especially from Tahitian captain Nicholas Vallar, who was booked after 24 minutes for a crude challenge on man of the match Michael McGlinchey.

Given his play after that, Oiaka had plenty of reasons to hand him a second yellow, and then a red, but chose to ignore his disgraceful antics.

"We are disappointed we have not got more officials up to speed," said Nicholas. "Thankfully, we have time to get it right."

Next big matches

March 22: All Whites v New Caledonia (home)
March 26: All Whites v Solomon Is (away).

- NZ Herald

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