MIchael Brown of APNZ looks at five reasons why the OFC Nations Cup is turning out to be a terrific football tournament.
Apart from one game - Vanuatu v Samoa - which was a dud, the rest have been compelling viewing. In Tuesday's game between the Solomon Islands and Fiji, for instance, there were 36 shots on goal yet somehow it still finished 0-0. New Caledonia incredibly managed to get back into the game against Tahiti even though they were 3-0 down and playing with only nine men (they eventually lost 4-3). Teams largely play quick, attacking football and their first instinct is to go forward rather than back. The erratic refereeing - Tony Lochhead was shown two yellows on Monday but wasn't dismissed - just adds to the drama.
2. No histrionics
It would be some sight if Fiji play at next year's Confederations Cup and come up against the Netherlands or Portugal. Arjen Robben or Ronaldo would know what a real tackle feels like. There have been some monster hits at this tournament, a lot from the Fijians, yet few players roll around like their toenails have been wrenched out in some cruel form of torture or dive trying to con the referee. It's tough and, most of the time anyway, fair.
3. The format
The schedule for each team is brutal and shouldn't be allowed to happen at this level of football but it provides great momentum for the tournament. With 16 games over 10 days, there's no time to rest for players or fans. It also makes it difficult for coaches to manage their squad. They need to balance the desire to win with looking after their players. Not easy.
4. Lawson Tama Stadium
There are few places in the world like Lawson Tama Stadium. It's pretty basic, with a rickety covered stand on one side and a steep bank on the other, but it's a great place to watch football. The pitch is holding up remarkably well and locals are supporting it. It's hard to imagine 6000 people turning up to watch Tahiti against Samoa in New Zealand and they are being turned away when the Solomon Islands play. It is about the only thing locals are talking about.
5. The stakes
A place in the top four is the primary objective and the All Whites have already achieved that. It means they will progress to the next phase of World Cup qualification (the top four teams play each other home and away to find Oceania's representative to play the fourth-best nation in Concacaf). But the winner of the Nations Cup also earns qualification for next year's Confederations Cup and that's what the All Whites want. It is not going to be easy. The gap between New Zealand and the rest is closing, and this is magnified in such difficult conditions, and the O-League has played a big hand in this. Any one of Tahiti, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands will believe they can win this tournament.
It will be a lot more difficult for the island teams to win the next phase because, as challenging as it is for the All Whites to play in the Solomons - they played their second game against Papua New Guinea in 39-degree heat - it is equally difficult for island teams to cope with the conditions in New Zealand.