OFC Men’s Nations Cup 1996

After sixteen years in the wilderness, the OFC Nations Cup finally returned for its third edition in 1996, once again with a different format. This time the tournament consisted of semi-finals and a final played over two legs between the four qualified nations. Australia and New Zealand qualified automatically as the two highest ranked OFC sides, whilst Solomon Islands booked their place as 1994 Melanesia Cup winners, and Tahiti secured their spot as 1994 Polynesia Cup winners. Trans-Tasman rivals Australia and New Zealand were drawn to play each other in the first semi-final, whilst Tahiti faced the Solomon Islands in the second.

The first semi-final between Australia and New Zealand was delicately poised after the first leg in Christchurch, where both sides drew blanks in a 0-0 draw. With home advantage for the second leg Australia pulled away though, rolling to a comfortable 3-0 victory in Newcastle. Goals from Damian Mori, Paul Wade, and Joe Spiteri contributed to the win, securing Australia’s place in the OFC Nations Cup final for a second consecutive edition.

Tahiti took a first leg advantage in the second semi-final with the Solomon Islands, as Jean-Loup Rousseau’s second half strike assisted them to a 1-0 win away in Honiara. He scored again just after halftime in the second leg at home in Papeete, as Tahiti fended off a nervy finish to beat the Solomon Islands 2-1 on the day and 3-1 on aggregate. Progression ensured a third consecutive OFC Nations Cup final for Tahiti, and a replay of the 1980 OFC Nations Cup final with Australia.

The winner of the 1996 OFC Nations Cup was all but decided after the first leg of the final in Papeete, as Australia put together a clinical performance away from home to take a 6-0 lead in the tie. Forward Kris Trajanovski was the stand-out with his four goals. He would take the spotlight again in the second leg of the final in Canberra, scoring a hat-trick as Australia rammed home their advantage with a 5-0 win and an 11-0 victory on aggregate. Trajanovski would finish as the tournament’s top scorer for his seven goals across the two legs of the final, pushing Australia to their second consecutive OFC Nations Cup title.

As continental champions, Australia qualified for the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia, where they captured the world’s attention with a run to the final, beating the likes of Mexico and Uruguay along the way. They unfortunately fell to a 0-6 defeat to Brazil in the final in Riyadh, but their runners-up finish remains the best by any OFC nation at a FIFA event.