Soccer: Oceania's hopes ride on team on a losing streak

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Photo / Wayne Drought
Photo / Wayne Drought

It might not be too long before the worry beads will start to rattle at the Oceania Football Confederation.

Tahiti's galling 4-0 home loss to New Caledonia in this week's World Cup qualifier should have alarm bells ringing. That followed a 2-0 away loss to the Solomon Islands five days earlier. A nil return and World Cup hopes all but extinguished is hardly what OFC bosses would want from the team who will carry their hopes at next year's Confederations Cup.

Tahiti deserve their place at that tournament after winning the Nations Cup in Honiara but these recent results are a real concern given the sometimes fraught relationship between OFC, Fifa and other confederations who have often expressed disquiet at what some see as a privileged position for the minnow confederation.

Apart from the World Cup itself, Oceania has direct entry into a dozen Fifa tournaments but with those teams always under scrutiny. Oceania teams, more often than not, read New Zealand, have done well to the extent they are now winning through to the second phase of age group and other tournaments.

In recent years the only non-New Zealand team to play at a major Fifa tournament was O-League winner Hekari United who played in the 2010 Club World Cup. After assembling a team stacked with many of the best players from the island nations to win the O-League, the Papua New Guineans went to the 2010 Club World Cup with a team missing most of the players who had won the right to be in Abu Dhabi and were despatched in double-quick time 3-0 by a local club side.

The fear that the Tahitians might suffer a similar fate - and they will have three group games at the Confederations Cup - has to be a concern for Oceania.

On the back of comments from some players and administrators, the question of whether New Zealand should follow Australia in breaking away from Oceania and attempt to join the Asian Confederation has again been raised.

Why? One only has to look across the Tasman to see what being in Asia has done for Football Federation Australia. The Australians have quickly learned that trips to far-flung countries - there are 47 member nations in Asia - come at a crippling cost and too often it has been money spent for little reward.

Of the past 10 major tournaments, New Zealand has been represented in all. Australia have played at just four - the men's World Cup, men's under-17 and under-20 World Cups and the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany. Sure, it has also come at a cost to New Zealand Football but given their success rate in qualifying for these tournaments they can, rightly, point to that as a reason to retain the status quo and stay in Oceania.

Opponents say the standard of football would be better in Asia but New Zealand players have done very well in attracting offers from clubs all around the world simply by playing on the international stage. Why would anyone want to give that up?

- NZ Herald

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