New Zealand can seal a playoff berth for the FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with a win over New Caledonia in Noumea on Saturday. Leading the Caledonians by a point with a game in hand, New Zealand remain heavy favourites to progress from the Oceania section, although a win on home soil for the Caledonians could make for an exciting finish.
The winner of the Oceania section will play off with the fifth-placed Asian team for a place at South Africa 2010. But there is more than just FIFA World Cup glory at stake on Saturday: the winner of the Oceania section will also secure a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup, to be held in South Africa next year.
Les Cagous' coach, Frenchman Didier Chambaron, realizes that his side faces an uphill struggle at the Stade Magenta. Nevertheless, he is clinging on to the dream of qualification. "We all believe it's still possible, because there is still a chance, however small," said Chambaron. "But we're realistic, and we know that a huge feat will be needed if we are to continue the adventure. Man for man, technically, we can match New Zealand, but how we measure that collectively over the two matches is harder to assess."
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert has been dealt a last-minute blow, with Celtic striker Chris Killen withdrawing from the squad due to injury. Killen had developed a promising partnership with Wellington Phoenix striker Shane Smeltz, and Herbert was disappointed to have to break up the nexus. "The biggest disappointment is that we miss another chance for he and Smeltz to play together. They're both young guys and there's potential for some longevity around that partnership," said the Kiwi coach.
Little more than pride is at stake in the battle of the Oceania section's back-markers. Yet there is an intriguing sub-plot to the game, with Fiji's Osea Vakatalesau and Seule Soromon of Vanuatu battling for top spot in the Oceania scorers' chart. Vakatalesau has scored 12 goals in the qualifying series (which included the South Pacific Games in Samoa), while Soromon is in second place on nine. There is still time for the latter to catch up, with the two sides meeting again in Port Vila on Tuesday.
McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor
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