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.
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.
The OFC Under-17 Championship final has been won by tournament hosts New Zealand for the fourth time in the nation’s history following their 2-0 win against Tahiti. A 2-0 scoreline was also sufficient for the Solomon Islands to claim third place in their play-off against Vanuatu.
Both of the goals came in the first half for New Zealand who have won the last three tournaments all at the expense of today’s opponents Tahiti. Cameron Howieson gave the All Whites the lead after just seven minutes with the lead doubled on 36 minutes through Tim Payne. The third place play-off also saw two first half goals as Solo Kuki (13 minutes) and Harrison Mala (26) ensured that the Solomon Islands finished the tournament on a high against Vanuatu even if they were playing merely for pride.
New Zealand’s reward for winning the tournament is to gain the solitary OFC berth in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup later this year in Mexico.
Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the fortunes of each continent in this year’s FIFA World Cup. We begin with a look at Oceania who could only field one entrant in the competition and were proudly represented by New Zealand.
The All Whites had only ever entered the FIFA World Cup finals once before in 1982 when they failed to gain a point in any of their three group matches. New Zealand, therefore, would perhaps have been happy just to gain a solitary point in this year’s tournament before a ball had been kicked. It was testament to their competitiveness and character that they were to be ultimately disappointed with the three points they gained by virtue of drawing all three games in South Africa.
In their first game Rikki Herbert’s New Zealand team played against Slovakia and were a match for their European opponents but it seemed, as the game reached second half stoppage time, that Robert Vittek’s 50th minute goal would be enough to separate the two sides. Winston Reid, the New Zealand central defender, had other ideas and headed home with virtually the last touch of the match. This gave the All Whites confidence ahead of their clash with defending world champions Italy and it was dreamland for the Antipodeans after just seven minutes when Shane Smeltz gave New Zealand a shock lead. Italy equalized via the penalty spot on the half hour mark and many people expected the Azzurri to go on from there but the New Zealand team remained resolute and very nearly stole the win at the end of the game but Chris Wood’s late effort just went wide of the post. This turned out to be a crucial miss in the end as New Zealand were unable to score past their final group opponents Paraguay in what was a goalless stalemate. So New Zealand, in contrast to their first World Cup appearance twenty eight years earlier, remained unbeaten but were unfortunate to see themselves finish third behind Paraguay and Slovakia. At least they had the consolation prize of finishing above the hapless Italians.
So what’s the future for football in New Zealand? Ryan Nelsen’s suggestion that his country should follow the lead of neighbours Australia by joining the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) not only seems sensible but, given time, inevitable. If the sport is to grow in what is normally a haven for rugby union then it needs to make such a move in order to ensure that the national team gets the required level of quality opposition on a regular basis. With all due respect to their qualifying opponents such as New Caledonia, Fiji or Vanuatu, the All Whites cannot afford to be playing against such sub-standard opposition unless they are also incorporated into the AFC footballing fraternity. The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) has done a lot to promote the game in the region but once the precedent of Australia joining the AFC came to fruition then it was only going to end up with New Zealand wishing to do the same thing. If New Zealand does eventually join the AFC then the OFC will become virtually redundant and, sad though that is, it will be the result of realpolitik in light of recent movements.
Hopefully we haven’t seen the end of New Zealand as a growing football force.
Love it or loathe it the FIFA Club World Cup is going to remain a staple part of the football calendar. To some observers it’s a chance to win a trophy and add more prestige to their club. To some others it’s a competition that turns up in the middle of a long hard season, getting in the way of domestic progress. Either way there will be seven teams in the United Arab Emirates from December 9-19 who will be giving everything to win the cup. Here is Stoppage Time’s guide to the participants:
FC BARCELONA – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
FC Barcelona became European champions for the third time in May after beating Manchester United 2-0 in Rome. It is surprising that a massive club such as “Barça” has never won the FIFA Club World Cup or its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup. After twice being crowned European champions in 1992 and 2006 the Catalans have been defeated by Brazilian clubs in their attempts to be crowned the world’s best. In 1992 a São Paulo side inspired by Rai beat Barça 2-1 and then, three years ago, Internacional scored a late goal to deny Barcelona again. This time the ‘Blaugrana’ hope to make it third time lucky in this tournament and add the FIFA Club World Cup to the other five trophies they’ve won under their coach Pep Guardiola.
ESTUDIANTES DE LA PLATA – COPA LIBERTADORES WINNERS 2009
Estudiantes won their fourth Copa Libertadores with a 2-1 victory over two legs against Brazilian side Cruzeiro. The Argentinian side had a mixed record in the Intercontinental Cup during their heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s. Their solo victory came in 1968 after a 2-1 aggregate win over Manchester United (before 1979 the champions of Europe and South America played home and away matches to win the cup). Their next two efforts, however, ended in failure; in 1969 Milan won 4-2 on aggregate and in 1970 Feyenoord Rotterdam claimed their only world title with a 3-2 aggregate win. Can Juan Sebastián Verón emulate his father Juan Ramón’s achievements and become a world champion with his boyhood club?
ATLANTE CF – CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The Mexican side secured their second CONCACAF Champions League title after an all-Mexican affair with Cruz Azul ended up 2-0 after a two-legged final. Atlante’s other title win was back in 1983 when they defeated Surinam’s Robinhood FC (yes, really!) 6-1 over two legs. Atlante’s Club World Cup campaign will kick-off at the quarter-final stage against either Al Ahli or Auckland City, who meet in the first match of the competition.
POHANG STEELERS – AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The three time Asian champions have not always dominated the domestic scene in South Korea but tend to thrive in Asian club competition. After previous successes in 1997 and 1998, Pohang Steelers won a third title this year by defeating Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Tokyo’s National Stadium. Pohang will play against TP Mazembe at the quarter-final stage, the winner of which faces Estudiantes in the semi-finals.
TP MAZEMBE – CAF AFRICAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The Congolese side have been African champions on three occasions after their most recent success was decided on away goals against Nigerian team Heartlands FC. After the Nigerians won the first leg 2-1 at home, Mazembe won the second leg 1-0 to secure a passage to the Middle East. A meeting with Estudiantes de la Plata awaits if they can overcome Pohang Steelers in the quarter-final.
AUCKLAND CITY – OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The New Zealanders will be participating in the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time, after their previous appearance in 2006, following their 9-4 win over Soloman Islands’ club Koloale FC in the two-legged OFC Champions League final. In 2006 Auckland City lost in the opening play-off match to Al Ahly of Egypt 2-0. Can they avoid a repeat against a similarly named Al Ahli of UAE in this year’s tournament?
AL AHLI – UAE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2009
Representing the host country in this year’s tournament, Al Ahli have never been Asian champions but are the current UAE League champions after winning the title by one point from nearest challengers Al Jazira Club. Last season’s attempt at continental glory came to an end in the group phase of the AFC Champions League competition. Will meet Atlante CF in the quarter-final if they beat Auckland City in the play-off match.