The format for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ OFC preliminary competition has been confirmed by FIFA ahead of the competition draw being conducted on Tuesday morning (November 30) NZT.
The preliminary competition will be played as a mini-tournament and held in Qatar between March 14-30 next year, allowing for a minimum of two rest days between games, as well as before the first game following long distance travel.
Therefore, FIFA’s Bureau of the Council approved OFC’s request to add an additional day to the existing International Match Calendar window (which runs from March 21-29) for the preliminary competition, meaning it will now run from March 21-30 and see the mandatory release of players for the last group-stage match, semi-finals and final of the preliminary competition.
The Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu are all confirmed to take part. American Samoa and Samoa withdrew from participation due to the ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The qualifying stage will be a single match between the Cook Islands and Tonga – the two lowest-ranked participating OFC nations in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings – with the winner advancing to the group stage.
The group stage will then see eight teams (being the winner of the qualification stage match and the other seven nations) drawn into two groups of four, with each team playing each of their group opponents once (single round-robin, with three group matches for each team).
The winner and runner-up from each group qualify for a single leg semi-final match, with the two winners advancing to a single leg final match.
The overall winner qualifies for the intercontinental play-off against a nation from Concacaf on June 13 or 14.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ OFC Preliminary Draw will be held in Zurich, Switzerland on Tuesday, November 30 at 9.00am NZT.
OFC General Secretary Franck Castillo said it was exciting to confirm the return of international football for Oceania nations, who with the exception of New Zealand, will be playing international opposition for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are thrilled to finally be in a position to hold the OFC qualifiers for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™,” Castillo said.
“It is of upmost importance to OFC that we are able to stage this tournament and provide a platform for our Member Associations to return to international matches.
“Logistically it has been an extremely challenging exercise and one that has seen us forced to host the qualifiers outside of our own region.
“We are incredibly grateful for the support of FIFA, the Qatar Football Association and our own OFC Member Associations throughout this process, as well as the local Governments involved.
“The region can now look forward to a wonderful tournament which will see nine nations play for the chance to be part of the next World Cup.”
The decision to host the preliminary competition in Qatar came after no OFC Member Association was able to receive approval from their government to host the centralised tournament in their country, due to restrictions in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since late 2019 Oceania has not been able to hold national team competitions, due to the impacts of COVID-19. Due to lingering travel and quarantine restrictions, March 2022 presents the first – and indeed last – opportunity for the preliminary competition to take place.