It’s been a pretty intense few days in the preliminary round of Oceania’s Under-17 Football Championship and there has been no shortage of goals in what’s been a very open tournament. Emerging victorious are the Cook Islands whose 2-1 win over host nation Samoa in the last round of matches played today in the Samoan capital city of Apia has won them through to the next stage.
Twenty eight goals were scored in the six games to have been played since Tuesday, an average of just over four and a half a game, and all of them have added to a fascinating competition in which drama was in no short supply. Cook Islands got their tournament off to the best possible start on Tuesday when defeating Tonga 7-1 with six different players getting on the score sheet, Maro Bonsu-Maro being the only player to score two goals. In the derby match, Samoa and American Samoa shared the spoils with a 2-2 draw to leave the Cook Islanders topping the table after matchday one. Things suddenly changed on matchday two when the Cook Islands were overtaken at the top by American Samoa. The latter defeated the former 3-0 with Sinisi Tua bagging a brace. Samoa got the better of Tonga, winning by the odd goal in five with Paulo Scanlan’s hat-trick proving crucial in Samoa’s 3-2 win.
Going into today’s final round of matches three teams – Samoa, American Samoa and Cook Islands – all had the chance to claim the trophy. Tonga, up until now the whipping boys of the group, were in no position to gift their opponents American Samoa the title. American Samoa seemed to be coasting their way to victory when going 2-0 ahead after 48 minutes thanks to goals from Paia Ipiniu and Sinisa Tua but the Tongans were to end up shocking their opponents by turning the match around with three goals in the last nineteen minutes. Uasi Talanoa, Hemaloto Polovili and Taniela Vaka’uta, whose goal came deep into stoppage time, claimed Tonga’s first win of the tournament and opened the door for Samoa and Cook Islands to claim the title in the other match.
In another topsy-turvy encounter it was Samoa who took the lead after 23 minutes thanks to Sue Pelesa, an advantage they would see through to half-time. Fifteen minutes into the second half saw the Cook Islands restore parity, Takuina Tararo heading home the equalizer, but they had to wait until four minutes from full-time before they were to score the crucial goal which would eventually clinch the championship. Step forward Dwayne Tiputoa whose late charge saw him slot the ball home and break the hearts of Samoa, for whom a draw would’ve been enough to give them the title following American Samoa’s surprise defeat.
Cook Islands topped the table with six points from three games, both American Samoa and Samoa have four points with the former holding on to second place on goal difference whilst Tonga prop up the rest with three points. The Cook Islands can now prepare for the tournament proper of the OFC under-17 Championship where they face off against seven other nations including the likes of New Zealand, Solomon Islands and hosts Vanuatu from April 17th-27th. The winner of that can then look forward to representing Oceania on the world stage when the FIFA Under-17 World Cup takes place in the United Arab Emirates between October 17th-November 8th.
The 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony has been held in Zurich with the undoubted star of the show once again being FC Barcelona and Argentina sensation Lionel Messi. He has picked up FIFA’s top award for individual footballers for the third consecutive year since FIFA’s World Player of the year and France Football’s Ballon d’Or awards merged in 2010, and his fourth overall.
The 25 year old has already achieved more in his career than most players would ever dream of but the personal accolades still keep rolling in for a player whose setting of a new record for scoring the most goals in a calendar year has grabbed lots of headlines despite the relative lack of success for his club side in 2012. Messi, with 41.6% of the vote, beat off challenges from Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (23.68%) and FC Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta (10.91%).
FIFA’s Manager of the Year went to Vicente del Bosque, the UEFA European Championship winning coach of the Spanish national team having secured 34.51% of the vote which put him ahead of Real Madrid’s José Mourinho (20.49%) and former FC Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola (12.91%)
In the women’s game top honours went to Abby Wambach, the American thoroughly deserving the accolade following a year in which her goals helped secure the Olympic gold medal for the USA women’s team in London. She won with a 20.67% share of the vote putting her ahead of five-time former winner Marta (13.5%) and compatriot Alex Morgan (10.87%). Coach of the Year went to Pia Sundhage, the Swede having led the United States Women’s national team to their gold medal, with 28.59% of the vote compared to challengers Norio Sasaki (23.83%) and Bruno Bini (9.02%).
FIFA’s Ferenc Puskas award, which goes to the scorer of the goal adjudged to have been the best, went to Miroslav Stoch for his goal against Gençlerbirliği in a Turkish Super League match (see below). He beat off competition from Colombian superstar Radamel Falcao and Brazilian hot shot Neymar, the winner of last year’s award in this category.
FIFA’s Presidential Award, a sort of lifetime achievement award given to an individual, team or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the game, was given to German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. “Der Kaiser” won everything there was to win in the game with FC Bayern München and the German national team and has played a vital role as a coach and as a football ambassador since he gave up his playing career in the early 1980s. The Fair Play award went to the Uzbekistan Football Association whose record in terms of fair play on the field has been exemplary throughout the last twelve months.
Finally, the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2012 was announced. This team is voted for by users of the FIFA website:
Iker Casillas (Goalkeeper); Dani Alves, Marcelo, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos (Defence); Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez (Midfield); Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao (Attack)
Tahiti are the champions of the OFC Nations Cup for the very first time following an exciting final against New Caledonia. Tahiti, whose previous tournament best had been three second placings in 1973, 1980 and 1996, finally scribed their name on the trophy following Sunday’s 1-0 triumph and claimed a place in next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
New Caledonia, beaten finalists in the previous tournament in 2008, had caused a huge upset on Friday when disposing of the defending champions New Zealand 2-0 in the semi-finals whilst Tahiti reached the final on the back of a tense 1-0 win over hosts Solomon Islands. The final on Sunday was preceded by the third/fourth play-off match between the two losing semi-finalists with New Zealand clawing back some pride in an exciting 4-3 win over the Solomon Islands. The final, however, didn’t see as many goals but no shortage of tension as Tahiti, thanks to the exotically named Steevy Chong Hue, scored the only goal of the game in the 11th minute of the game. Try as they might, New Caledonia were unable to equalize and Tahiti were able to see out the game and claim a maiden title.
The tiny Pacific island, part of French Polynesia, will be hugely rewarded for their success in the OFC Nations Cup by taking part in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup which could see them pitted against the likes of world champions Spain and tournament hosts Brazil. Tahiti, as well as the other three nations who made the OFC Nations Cup semi-finals, also have the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification to look forward to which begins in September this year.
The semi-final line-up of the 2012 OFC Nations Cup is now known following the completion of the tournament’s group stages yesterday.
Defending champions New Zealand have made through to the last four having topped Group B on goal difference over fellow semi-finalists Solomon Islands. Both nations had a record of two wins and a draw from three games but New Zealand’s goal record in their wins over group opponents Fiji and Papua New Guinea allowed them to pip the Solomon Islands, with whom they shared a 1-1 draw yesterday, to the top of the standings.
Group A was won by Tahiti who are the only country still in the competition with a 100% record having won all of their three group matches against Samoa (10-1), New Caledonia (4-3) and Vanuatu (4-1). In a group which was saturated with goals, New Caledonia claimed second place in the group and the final semi-final spot on Tuesday when thrashing tournament whipping boys Samoa 9-0.
Tahiti will meet tournament hosts Solomon Islands in the first of tomorrow’s semi-finals before New Caledonia face off against New Zealand to decide the second Nations Cup finalists. All four countries, as a result of reaching the semi-finals, have also progressed to the third round of FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying in the Oceania region. Before that important phase of World Cup qualifying begins in September, the OFC Nations Cup will come to a conclusion on Sunday, June 10th with the winners subsequently qualifying for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
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.
Auckland City are Oceania football champions for the fourth time following a single goal second leg victory over Tahitian side Tefana FC today which sealed a 3-1 aggregate win.
The New Zealand side were already defending the O-League trophy which they won last year and were made to work hard over the two legs by a Tefana team who were largely unfancied at the start of the tournament, especially after they lost their first Group A match 10-0 at the hands of Auckland’s compatriots Waitakere United.
Auckland City won the first leg 2-1 at home but the away goal for Tefana meant that the Tahitians maintained some hope of upsetting the odds to take the title in much the same way that Papua New Guineans Hekari United had done in 2010. Sadly for Tefana the dream faded away once Manel Exposito gave Auckland City a 1-0 lead just four minutes before the half-time break in the second leg, a score line which didn’t change and which secured the Kiwis a 3-1 aggregate triumph.
For Auckland City it is their fourth continental title in six years and puts them in the draw alongside 2012 CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey CF for the FIFA Club World Cup which will be played in Japan later this year.
The FIFA Club World Cup officially got under way today with two goals just before half-time giving Kashiwa Reysol a 2-0 win over Auckland City in the qualifying play-off to send the Japanese club through to the quarter-finals.
Kashiwa, who clinched the 2011 J-League title last weekend, had Junya Tanaka and Masato Kudo to thank as the pair struck in the 37th and 40th minutes respectively to send the host nation’s representatives into the next round. For Oceania champions Auckland City it was a disappointing result, especially given that they were in confident mood following a 100% record of winning results this season going into today’s game. Alas, the Japanese were too strong for the Kiwis who can now go back and concentrate on defending their domestic and continental titles.
The two quarter-final matches will be played on Saturday with Kashiwa playing CONCACAF North and Central American champions Monterrey whilst CAF African Champions League winners Esperance meet AFC Asian Champions League holders Al-Sadd.
Auckland City are beginning to make a habit out of playing in the FIFA Club World Cup. This year will see the New Zealanders make their third appearance in the competition since 2006 following another O-League success in 2010-11. They will face the Japanese champions in a qualifying play-off and, if successful, will go on to play CONCACAF Champions League holders Monterrey CF in the quarter-finals.
Auckland City qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup having won their third continental title without losing a game. With a record of four wins and two draws in the group phase City got the better of AS Magenta (New Caledonia), AS Tefana (Tahiti) and compatriots Waitakere United with a six point margin separating the two New Zealand clubs who have dominated the O-League in the last six years. In the two-legged final against Vanuatu champions Amicale FC the New Zealanders narrowly won the first leg 2-1 away from home, with goals from Manuel Exposito and Luis Corrales, before sealing the deal in style with a 4-0 return leg victory. Alex Feneridis, Daniel Koprivcic, Exposito and Adam McGeorge hit the back of the net in the home leg and, thus, ensured that the trophy would be winging its way back to Kiwitea Street following previous successes in 2006 and 2009.
Since City won the 2010-11 O-League the club has continued to go from strength to strength in this season’s competition starting off their title defence with back-to-back victories over Koloale FC (Solomon Islands) and 2009-10 champions Hekari United (Papua New Guniea). Auckland City have also began the new domestic season strongly, winning the curtain-raising ASB Charity Cup match and winning all four of their opening ASB Premiership matches. Wins against Waikato FC Hamilton, Team Wellington, Waitakere United and Young Heart Manuwatu have seen City become the only team to maintain a 100% record after four games, scoring seventeen goals and conceding just four times so far.
Having only been founded seven years ago Auckland City have come so far in such a short time but they have yet to progress beyond the quarter-finals in the FIFA Club World Cup. In 2006 they lost to African champions Al Ahly in the quarter-finals before going down to Asian winners Jeonbuk Motors in the 5th/6th play-off. The 2009 tournament proved to be slightly more successful for the New Zealanders as they won a qualifying play-off against host representatives Al Ahli before losing to CONCACAF champions Atlante CF in the quarter-finals but Auckland did have the consolation of winning that year’s 5th/6th play-off game against Africans TP Mazembe. My prediction is that Auckland City may find it difficult to get beyond the qualifying play-off round this time but they continue to do New Zealand football proud just by being there and hopefully they will show some of the attacking football which has won them many prizes domestically.
AMICALE FC v AUCKLAND CITY – FINAL, 1ST LEG
AUCKLAND CITY v AMICALE FC – FINAL, 2ND LEG
Silao Malo scored the only goal of the game as Samoa defeated their neighbours American Samoa by one goal to nil in the final round of first stage FIFA World Cup qualification matches in the Oceania region.
American Samoa, a team who have become famous for suffering heavy defeats and propping up the FIFA World Rankings in recent years, had captured the hearts and minds of many football fans with their exploits this week. Having defeated Tonga and drawn with Cook Islands in their first two group matches, American Samoa had to defeat Samoa in their final group match in the Samoan capital city of Apia to progress to the second stage of qualifying.
Alas, it proved to be one step too far for American Samoa whose defence allowed Malo to score in the last minute of the game to give Samoa a 1-0 victory and top of the group. Tonga’s 2-1 win over the Cook Islands gave them second place in the four team table, just ahead of American Samoa on goal difference, but for many the highlights of the last week have come from American Samoa who can now hope that they will start to rise up the World Rankings very soon. Samoa, on the other hand, will play in the 2012 OFC Nations Cup alongside the likes of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in a competition which will also double up as the second stage of qualifying.
Having been the laughing stock of world football for many years, the tiny Pacific nation of American Samoa is just one step away from progressing beyond the first stage of 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying following a good start to their campaign.
Rock bottom of the FIFA World Rankings over the last few years and having failed to win a single competitive match for 17 years, American Samoa began their first stage campaign on Tuesday by defeating Tonga by two goals to one with Ramin Ott and Shalom Luani getting on the score sheet. Yesterday saw American Samoa keep up the good work with a respectable draw against the Cook Islands, Luani scoring his second goal of the campaign after 24 minutes only for Cook Islands to draw level on the hour mark when Tala Luvu put through his own net. Nonetheless the start has given American Samoa a reasonable chance of getting the second stage of Oceania qualifying but they must beat Samoa, who has hosted all of the qualifying games over the last few days, in order to go further and meet up against the likes of New Zealand in the 2012 OFC Nations Cup which will also double as FIFA World Cup qualifying.