The inaugural OFC Futsal Championship Invitational held at Trust’s Stadium in Auckland was this month’s highlight as the national teams from New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti were joined by AFC sides Australia and Malaysia. It came as little surprise that Malaysia and Australia found themselves vying for the title in the final, with Australia taking the silverware courtesy of a 5-1victory. What was possibly more interesting to Oceania futsal followers was the differences in the local sides since the last OFC Futsal Championship in 2011. The Solomon Islands struggled in the cool New Zealand climate losing 7-3 to an up-and-coming New Zealand side. The Kiwis eventually claimed third after beating Tahiti, another Oceania side on the up, 1-0 in the play-off and heralding in a new era of futsal for the region.
OFC President and FIFA Vice-President David Chung travelled to Samoa this month for the inauguration of the FIFA Goal IV Project. This project, overseen by the FIFA Development Office through Development Officer Glenn Turner, saw an outdoor futsal surface installed at J. S. Blatter Football Complex in Tuanaimato, and a regional technical centre on the island of Savai’i. Both were important additions for the growth and development of football in Samoa and the openings were well attended by local dignitaries, the public and the media.
This proved to be the month of beach soccer with the OFC Beach Soccer Championships in Noumea, New Caledonia kicking things off. The regional competition had just three participants this year hosts and newcomers New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, with Tahiti gaining automatic entry as hosts of the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. New Caledonia caused quite an upset when they edged out Vanuatu 7-6 in their first ever-international match in this discipline, but experience proved the winner in the end as Solomon Islands did away with Vanuatu 8-3 and New Caledonia 6-0, qualifying for the FIFA tournament and giving Oceania two solid representatives in Tahiti.
The Beach Soccer World Cup proved a memorable event for the region as well as around the World as Tahiti proved they are the hosts with most. And with two Oceania sides representing the region there was plenty of action for fans around the region to follow. The Solomon Islands Bilikiki gave their all but in the end couldn’t quite manage to set up the first ever meeting of two OFC sides in the quarter-finals after being beaten 7-6 by El Salvador. The side still managed to make the history books however, with their opening 2-0 win over the Netherlands equalling the lowest-scoring match record in the tournament’s history. Tahiti did make it through to the quarter-finals in an inspiring run of form that took them all the way to the third-place play-off. They beat Argentina 6-1 in the quarter-finals before being undone by the clinical eventual victors Russia 5-3 taking them to the play-off. With everything on the line and in front of a home crowd the Tiki Toa gave Brazil a run for their money with a 7-7 lock at the end of extra time thanks a last-gasp goal from captain Naea Bennett. Unfortunately the fairy tale ending and a podium finish wasn’t to be as they went out in the penalty shootout, but this side has made their plans for the future heard around the World. Also adding to the historic campaign was a Bronze Ball award for Tahiti playmaker Raimana Li Fung Kuee, putting the 28-year-old on a list of player’s to watch.
Sandwiched between the two beach soccer events, OFC found time to welcome FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke to New Zealand as Auckland hosted a FIFA Development Seminar with ten of OFC’s Member Associations represented by their Presidents, Technical Directors and CEOs. Also in attendance was a team led by FIFA Director of Development and MA Division Thierry Regenass and including Head of Development Programmes Cyril Loisel, Head of Education and Technical Development Jurg Nepfer, MA IT Project Manager Raphael Morgulis and Development Manager Oceania Eva Pasquier.
This wasn’t the only seminar to be held this month either, with a Beach Soccer Seminar being run alongside the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. This allowed the technical departments from several MAs an opportunity to gain knowledge and expertise on the discipline at an elite level.
With Valcke and a number of FIFA employees in Auckland for the FIFA Development Seminar it proved the perfect opportunity for the official ground-breaking ceremony at Ngahue Reserve in Saint John. The momentous occasion was overseen by OFC President David Chung with representatives from Ngati Whatua, the New Zealand Government, Auckland Council, Korea Football Association, Orakei Local Board and FIFA alongside him. The ceremony marks the starting point of a project estimated for completion in 2015, with plans including artificial pitches, administration buildings, changing rooms and carparks.
New Zealand’s Football Ferns rounded out a month of successes and historic achievements for Oceania football, this time in Switzerland. The side downed both Brazil and China on their way to victory in the inaugural Valais Cup.
In a nod to a packed 2014 competitions calendar, the OFC Champions League Preliminary was held in the American Samoa capital of Pago Pago with the top clubs from Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands and American Samoa competing for a spot in the region’s prestigious club competition in Fiji in April. All four teams put in stellar performances despite some at times trying weather conditions but in the end there can be only one winner. Samoa’s Kiwi claimed the top spot after beating defending champions Tupapa Maraerenga of Cook Islands 3-0 in the final match of the tournament.
FIFA Development Manager Eva Pasquier made a return trip to Auckland this month as football’s governing body hosted the second FIFA/OFC Development Seminar of the year, once again in Auckland, New Zealand. All 11 OFC Member Associations were represented by their CEOs or General Secretaries, Competition Managers and Finance Officers as CEO/GS mentoring, finance and the strengthening of national leagues came under the spotlight.
The prospect of attending back-to-back FIFA World Cup™ tournaments was ruled out for New Zealand’s All Whites this month as Mexico dominated the intercontinental play-off to earn passage.
Papua New Guinea’s U-23 team made their first foray into international football outside of OFC competitions after accepting an invitation from the Indonesia FA to compete in the inaugural MNC Cup. Competing against Maldives, Laos and hosts Indonesia showed that PNG still have some way to go to become a threat on the international stage but their passion for the game was apparent in their bid to improve their standing in the game.
Rounding out the month was a trip to Monaco for OFC Head of Social Responsibility and International Relations Franck Castillo as OFC was nominated and awarded Sports Organisation of the Year for its Just Play Programme, run by Castillo and his department. The prestigious Peace and Sport award was handed out in a glitzy ceremony attended by His Serene Highness Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monacco. The award is recognition of a highly successful social development programme, which has been introduced around the Pacific, and the people responsible for implementing it in those countries including Just Play Project Managers and volunteers and teachers.
Contributing to a packed schedule in the later stages of the year was the Pacific Youth and Sports Conference held over five days in Noumea, New Caledonia. With over 700 youth participating the event was one of the largest youth conferences in the World. Co-convened by OFC, the Government of New Caledonia and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community the event focused on the use of sport as a tool for social development. Complimentary seminars and workshops
covered three main themes of health, education, employment and capacity building and social inclusion. Thirteen delegations presented projects to address social issues affecting the youth in their respective countries. On the final evening a panel of judges awarded the top projects with prizes that will allow the groups to implement them back in their communities.
The final major FIFA tournament of the year saw OFC Champions League victors Auckland City FC head to Morocco for their fifth appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup. Ramon Tribulietx took a strong side with a mix of experience and youth. Despite a gallant display which saw Fiji international striker Roy Krishna equalise and go into the history books as the first Fijian to score at any senior FIFA event, it wasn’t enough. A goal in injury time allowed host club Raja Casablanca to snatch a 2-1 victory leaving the Oceania representatives to dream of what might have been.