Soccer: Taupo to host Olympic qualifiers

Ryan Nelsen in action for the NZ Olympic soccer team against Brazil at the 2008 Olympics. Photo / Getty Images
Ryan Nelsen in action for the NZ Olympic soccer team against Brazil at the 2008 Olympics. Photo / Getty Images

A desire to take international games to the provinces and keep costs down will see Taupo host the men's Oceania Olympic football qualifiers in March.

The Oceania Football Confederation yesterday announced New Zealand would host the tournament instead of Fiji because of the ongoing threat of legal action from the Fijian government against Oceania general secretary Tai Nicholas.

Nicholas last year made remarks about the lack of a Fijian judicial system, published in the Fiji Times, and is facing contempt proceedings.

The same issue is threatening Fiji's chances of hosting of the first phase of Oceania's World Cup qualifiers in June and Oceania are likely to demand proceedings are dropped against Nicholas within a week or the tournament could also be taken to New Zealand, with Auckland the most likely venue. New Caledonia is another possible venue.

The top-four teams from the eight-team World Cup tournament will go into a home-and-away phase to find Oceania's representative to contest a World Cup playoff for a place at the 2014 World Cup but there's an additional carrot to do well with the winner earning a spot at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.

New Zealand Football chief executive Grant McKavanagh said they had chosen Taupo's Owen Delany Park to host the Olympic tournament from March 16-25 instead of playing it in a metropolitan centre.

"The Phoenix have played in those places [like Wellington, Dunedin and Hamilton],'' he said. "The Olympic qualification tournament is a chance to get to another location. We have home-and-away World Cup qualifiers coming up and all those other cities are in consideration for those games. It's really about getting the game around New Zealand. The Taupo District Council have also bent over backwards to help us.

"We have had tournaments in other parts of the country where we haven't had a great turnout. We are engaging with the schools in the region to come along and pricing it very well. Taupo is only three hours' drive from Auckland so it's not too far. It's central to all areas in the North Island and it's also cheaper to run the tournament outside Auckland.''

The New Zealand Olympic squad spent time in camp in Taupo last year and it was then the Taupo District Council sowed the seed to play there. Accommodation costs are lower than metropolitan areas and there are multiple training facilities at Crown Park.

New Zealand's side will be made up almost entirely of ASB Premiership players and New Zealand coach Neil Emblen has assembled a squad of 24 players in Auckland this week before he trims it to 18 for the tournament. The five current All Whites who meet the under-23 age criteria - Chris Wood, Tommy Smith, Kosta Barbarouses, Marco Rojas and Jake Gleeson - are still only outside chances to be available.

Regardless, Emblen welcomed the news of home advantage.

"It's very pleasing news. In Fiji we would have been playing in high humidity and over 30-degree heat every day so, with the amount of games the boys have to play during that time, it would have been a concern. They are all playing summer football in New Zealand so the Taupo conditions will be much more favourable, even if the workload is new to the players.''

Oceania decided last year to centralise the majority of tournaments in either New Zealand or Fiji to keep costs down for the member nations but Fiji's ongoing spat with Nicholas has meant New Zealand is likely to host most tournaments for the foreseeable future. The Oceania qualifiers for both the women's under-20 and under-17 World Cups will be held in Auckland at the same time in April.

New Zealand men's Olympic camp squad: Goalkeepers: Scott Basalaj (Team Wellington), Rhyss Keane (Green Gully, AUS), Matt Upton (Waitakere United); Defenders: Sam Campbell (Auckland City), Michael Eager (Team Wellington), Ross Haviland (Waitakere United), Mikey Kramer (Waikato FC), Andrew Milne (Auckland City), James Musa (Team Wellington), Tim Myers (Waitakere United) , Tristan Prattley (Otago United), Jonathan Raj (Team Wellington), Luke Rowe (Team Wellington); Midfielders: Alex Feneridis (Auckland City), Jason Hicks (Waikato FC), Cameron Lindsay (Wellington Phoenix), Adam McGeorge (Auckland City), Daniel Saric (Unattached), Adam Thomas (Waikato FC); Forwards: Andy Bevin (Waitakere United), Louis Fenton (Team Wellington), Ethan Galbraith (Team Wellington), Sean Lovemore (Waitakere United), Dakota Lucas (Team Wellington).

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 29 Dec 2014 02:11:40 Processing Time: 367ms