New Zealand's road to the 2018 World Cup is about to get tougher - thanks to a U-turn by the Oceania Football Confederation.

The governing body of football in the region is set to announce a change in the qualifying format to find Oceania's representative for the 2017 Confederations Cup, which is recognised as a huge step on the road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Instead of a home-and-away series of games, which the Herald on Sunday understands had already been pencilled in and planned for, the OFC executive is now believed to favour a one-off tournament.

It would be held in June next year and would mirror the 2012 Nations Cup in Honiara. Tahiti, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand are expected to bid to host the event.


A one-off tournament has many issues. With games every two days, it becomes a test of athletic resilience as much as footballing skill. There are few nations in the Pacific region with the infrastructure to host such events and there are climatic challenges if the tournament is in Fiji or Papua New Guninea.

The heat and humidity in Honiara for the 2012 event were almost unbearable at times, bringing into mind player welfare issues.

By the latter stages of the tournament, the main pitch was a mess, the surface cut up and uneven, from the toll of so many games.

And it's not always the right recipe for finding the best representative; Tahiti prevailed in Honiara but were embarassed in Brazil, conceding 24 goals, including thrashings by Spain 10-0 and Uruguay 8-0.

The implications might not be good for the All Whites, who don't have a great track record in one-off Oceania tournaments.

They finished third in the 2004 Nations Cup (behind Australia and the Solomon Islands) after a shock 4-2 loss to Vanuatu.

They had another bronze-place finish in 2012, after a 2-0 loss to New Caledonia in the semifinals, which ended any hopes of going to the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Confederations Cup qualification is arguably the biggest single success factor ahead of the intercontinental World Cup playoffs.


It gives invaluable matches against top nations in the World Cup stadiums, it expands the international programme ahead of the playoffs and gives a cash injection.

Leading into the 2009 Confederations Cup, the All Whites played Tanzania, Botswana and Italy, before taking on Spain, South Africa and Iraq at the tournament.

It was perfect preparation for the home-and-away challenge against Bahrain and in stark contrast to what unfolded in 2013, when the All Whites barely played.

They had to make do with matches against Ventura County Fusion, Chivas USA and Trinidad and Tobago before a daunting assignment against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium.

The decision by the OFC executive committee, expected to be announced in the next few days, is said to be based on the lower costs of running a tournament compared with staging an extended home-and-away series.

The host nation will pick up many of the costs and the compressed programme costs less.

That may have some logic but it's also hard to reconcile the fact that OFC spent around $600,000 on the President's Cup last year but are cutting financial corners on a much more significant event.

In terms of infrastructure and grounds, New Zealand would be the most logical host of the proposed tournament but that seems an unlikely scenario, given New Zealand Football has recently lost its seat on the OFC Executive committee.