Oceania Football Confederation > News > OFC Nations Cup 2012 > Teams ready for Nations Cup battle

Teams ready for Nations Cup battle

The respective squads have been arriving in Honiara throughout the week and defending champions New Zealand became the last side to touch down this afternoon, following hot on the heels of yesterday’s arrival of Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tahiti. They join New Caledonia, Samoa and Vanuatu, who all checked into the football-mad nation on Monday.
Each of the teams have been treated to a traditional welcome at Honiara International Airport but are sure to get a less welcoming response on the pitch from their opponents when the action gets underway.
The All Whites are the clear favourites but have been drawn in a challenging Group B with the hosts, Fiji and Papua New Guinea while Group A is likely to prove just as intriguing with New Caledonia, Samoa, Tahiti and Vanuatu all trying to keep their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ hopes alive.
New Zealand come to Honiara in good form after a successful trip to the United States that saw them secure two positive results, a 2-2 draw with El Salvador and 1-0 win over Honduras. In an ominous sign for the reigning champions’ Group B rivals, both those teams are more highly-ranked than any Oceania side and New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert has brought largely the same squad that travelled to the US.
In contrast to the other Nations Cup teams, the majority of that squad is fully professional and includes the likes of Winston Reid, Tommy Smith, Chris Wood, Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz, who are all playing at a high level in other parts of the world.
The strongest challenger to New Zealand’s crown is difficult to identify but the majority of the competing nations all harbour realistic hopes of a semi-final berth.
Samoa are the underdogs after earning their spot by winning stage one of World Cup qualifying as hosts in November but the other sides will all be disappointed to miss out on the top four and the place in stage three that would bring.
Fiji have secured some memorable results in World Cup qualifying in previous years – none more so than a remarkable 1-0 win over Australia in 1988 – and are looking to re-establish themselves as a dominant force after seeing their Pacific Island rivals make up ground in recent times.
Papua New Guinea have not made much of a mark in previous Nations Cup tournaments but, with former Socceroo and Australia coach Frank Farina at the helm, could be dark horses to go all the way.
New Caledonia are most definitely title contenders after winning gold as hosts of the 2011 Pacific Games while fellow francophones Tahiti are also a major threat. The Tahitians earned bronze at the Games in September and a batch of their players have momentum after being involved in Tefana’s march to the 2012 O-League final.
The Melanesian pair of Solomon Islands and Vanuatu make up the group of title aspirants and possess plenty of the flair and skill associated with players from those countries. The Bonitos – as the hosts are known by the locals – performed well in their last outing with a runners-up placing at the Games but will be under immense pressure to meet the expectations of their fanatical fans on home soil.
How they deal with that burden will be a key factor to their chances of success and coach Jacob Moli will be grateful in that regard for the support of Frenchman Laurent Papillon, a highly-qualified coach acting as technical advisor to the squad.
Vanuatu are also benefiting from a French connection with Christian Chosson on hand to assist head coach Percy Avock, who has no shortage of help with former international Kaison Maki and William Malas, the technical director for O-League representatives Amicale, joining him on the coaching staff.
The OFC Nations Cup kicks off on Friday 1 June at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara with Samoa taking on Tahiti at 12pm local time and Vanuatu facing New Caledonia at 3pm local time.
All matches will be streamed live online via oceaniafootball.com

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