The first competition to welcome in the New Year was the OFC U-17 Championship Preliminary in Samoa. It proved a worthy opener as the four sides from Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga and Cook Islands put up strong performances in a bid to earn qualification for the OFC U-17 Championship. A thrilling competition came right down to the wire with three teams in the running on the final day forcing the last two matches into simultaneous kick-offs. The Tuka Tisam coached Cook Islands side’s 2-1 victory over the hosts saw them top the table after American Samoa lost 3-2 to Tonga.
The Tiki Toa, Tahiti’s national beach soccer team, got their pre-FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup campaign underway on a major high as they took on France at home in Papeete. The home side completed a clean sweep of the three-match series showing they were in no way going to be an easy rival come September. While the French side didn’t qualify for the World Cup they were a worthy opponent with a World Cup title and two top four finishes to their name.
The OFC U-20 Championship was hosted in Fiji this year with Lautoka setting the stage for the tournament up until the final day, when the teams all travelled to Ba. New Zealand took the title to earn qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, but it wasn’t an easy run for the defending champions. They could muster just a one goal advantage over the likes of New Caledonia and Vanuatu and Fiji’s run of form showed they weren’t giving up without a fight, eventually earning second place ahead of Vanuatu in third.
The Football Ferns made their first appearance of the year at the annual Cyprus Women’s Cup. The side put forward some strong performances with a 2-1 victory over Switzerland enough to earn them third place on this occasion.
The stunning island of Santo in Vanuatu provided the backdrop for the OFC U-17 Championship, welcoming six countries to Luganville Soccer City Stadium. Once again, the Pacific Islands proved that New Zealand is not as far ahead in development as it may have once been as New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji once again launched solid campaigns that came close to rattling the long-time champions. It wasn’t enough on this occasion however as Darren Bazeley’s side rose above their opponents to take the title with five wins from five matches, earning qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.
The Tiki Toa continued their build-up this time making yet another three-match series clean sweep, this time against the Beach Soccer World Cup bound Netherlands. While it was a chance for the visitors to get a taste of the conditions in Tahiti ahead of the tournament, it also provided the Tiki Toa with an example of what they can do against top-flight opposition.
The OFC Executive Committee travelled to Mauritius this month to hold its executive committee meeting alongside the FIFA Congress.
Closer to home, the OFC Champions League competition culminated in a third consecutive victory for Ramon Tribulietx and his Auckland City side as they downed cross-town rivals Waitakere United 2-1 to earn passage to their fifth FIFA Club World Cup. This month also saw women’s football receive a huge boost of confidence around the Pacific as Wellington played host to a FIFA Women’s Development Seminar. The three-day seminar saw women’s development officers and technical directors arrive en masse from OFC’s 11 Member Associations. Travelling from Zurich was FIFA Women’s Football Development Manager Mayi Cruz Blanco who said the amount of progress that has been made in the region since her previous visit is really promising to see.
After winning the OFC Nations Cup in 2012 Tahiti got their chance on the World stage as the FIFA Confederations Cup got underway in Brazil. Faced with some outstanding teams opposite all eyes were on the Pacific minnows. They were undone in the end by some classy opponents including a 10-0 defeat to finalists and 2010 World Cup winners Spain, and an 8-0 rout at the hands of Uruguay. The Toa Aito’s courage and never-give-up attitude made them a crowd favourite and that was furthered along when Jonathan Tehau leapt clear to connect with a deep corner and score Tahiti’s first goal in the final stages of a FIFA competition. They may have finished without a win but the Toa Aito captured the imagination and hearts of football fans around the World.
New Zealand’s Young All Whites headed to Turkey to represent Oceania at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Drawn in a difficult group that included Croatia, Uruguay and Uzbekistan Chris Milicech’s side struggled to overcome the odds as three defeats saw them knocked out of the group stages. The disappointment for New Zealand Football didn’t last too long as the Football Ferns once again gave the game a boost. A two-match friendly series against Australia’s Matilda’s ended in a 1-0 loss before they came back to earn a 1-1 draw – one of their best results against their trans-Tasman foes. They then earned a 1-1 draw with 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions Japan which helped the side achieve a World Ranking of 19 – their highest ever position.
Look for Part Two on Friday at www.oceaniafootball.com