Let the battle for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ commence. Oceania will get the ball rolling and kick off the qualifiers for the most prestigious trophy in sport, with the 13th South Pacific Games held on the island of Samoa forming a pre-qualifying tournament for the first ever FIFA World Cup™ to be held on African soil.
Ten countries will take part in this South Pacific mini-tournament, with the top three teams going through to meet New Zealand in a four-team, round-robin-format group to establish the Oceania qualifier.
The picturesque island state in the south-west Pacific will therefore be hosting the earliest qualifiers for the final phase of a FIFA World Cup, the next edition of which is still three years away. Two groups of five will be squaring off between 25 August and 7 September 2007 at the J.S. Blatter Playing Fields Complex in the Samoan capital of Apia.
Group A sees Fiji, Tahiti, New Caledonia, the Cook Islands and Tuvalu drawn to face each other, while hosts Samoa will be in Group B, where they will take on the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga and American Samoa.
The top two teams in each group will contest the semi-finals, with the finalists and the third-placed team (after a play-off) qualifying for the OFC Nations Cup along with New Zealand, where qualification for the FIFA World Cup will be at stake (with the exception of Tuvalu, which are not a FIFA member, should they qualify). The group will see all four countries playing each other home and away. The top team will then play a two-legged play-off against a team from Asia - the winner securing a berth for South Africa.
Solomons and Vanatu square up
Group B of the pre-qualifying tournament should be very interesting, as it contains both the Solomon Islands, who came second in their group last time around, and Vanuatu, who were the surprise package of the Oceania zone in qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Both teams finished top of their pre-qualifying groups three years ago.
The Solomon Islands were particularly strong back then, playing as they were on home soil. Under the watchful eye of Alan Gillett, they went unbeaten through the initial tournament. The English-born coach went on to take his team to second place in the OFC Nations Cup, relegating New Zealand to third place and seeing his men square off against Australia for the right to take part in the FIFA World Cup qualifying play-off.
They also had a little help from neighbours Vanuatu, who also came through their group without suffering a single defeat and then turned the form-book on its head in the OFC Nations Cup by beating New Zealand 4-2, helping the Solomon Islands to their second-placed finish. Seimata Chilla, Lexa Bibi, Jean Maleb and Alphonse Qorig scored the goals in this historic match played at the Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide, Australia.
There will be everything to play for come August and September, therefore, with spots at the OFC Nations Cup up for grabs. FIFA.com will of course keep you up to date with all the news and reports from this first pre-qualifying tournament for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.