Oceania: New Zealand looking for back-to-back Nations Cup titles
The 2012 OFC Nations Cup will be the most important football tournament to be held in the Oceania region for many years. As well as playing for continental glory, the competition also doubles as the second round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The top four teams will go on further in the World Cup qualifying process whilst a place in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup will also await the team who triumphs in the Nations Cup final on Sunday, June 10th.
It is all to play for in the tournament which begins on June 1st in the Solomon Islands. The host nation have never won the OFC Nations Cup, their best performance coming in 2004 where they finished second to an Australia team taking part in the competition for the final time before they switched over to the Asian Football Confederation. The Solomon Islanders have been drawn in the same group as defending champions New Zealand so the odds on topping their group appear slim but a place in the top two of Group B would see them through to the semi-finals of their home tournament.
Favourites New Zealand are still basking in the aftermath of their 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign in which they went undefeated against group opponents Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia and were unfortunate to be eliminated on goal difference. That tournament represented real progress for the All Whites who will hope to carry off the OFC Nations Cup for the second consecutive time following their 2008 victory in which they topped a four team league table which included New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu. The champions will face off against the Fijians in their group again this time around with Fiji hoping to cause a real upset this around and get to their first tournament final. Papua New Guinea are the real underdogs in the tournament, their position in the FIFA World Ranking is 193rd (the lowest out of the eight teams), but they do contain a significant number of players from 2010 O-League champions Hekari United and will hope to transfer some top level club experience onto the international stage.
Group A seems more open and not just because of the absence of New Zealand. New Caledonia finished second in the most recent tournament in 2008 finishing seven points behind the Kiwis in the tournament table. Amongst their opponents are Tahiti whose squad includes a sizeable contingent of players from 2012 O-League finalists Tefana FC. Also in the mix are Samoa who qualified for this tournament on the back of a successful first phase in FIFA World Cup qualifying. They saw off neighbours American Samoa, Cook Islands and Tonga in order to take their place in the OFC Nations Cup. The final team in the competition is Vanuatu who are still hoping for a maiden final appearance having only ever finished as high as fourth place on four occasions, the most recent being in the four-team tournament of four years ago.
The group stage will be played out from June 1-6 where the top two teams in each group will qualify for the semi-finals of the OFC Nations Cup as well as the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying which will begin in September this year. The semi-finals will be played on June 8th and the tournament will come to its natural conclusion on June 10th at the Lawson Tama stadium in the Solomon capital of Honiara.