Football fever has rocked the world since the opening of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan earlier this month. It all comes to an end with the final on 30 June, but the party won't finish there for soccer fans in Oceania, particularly in New Zealand.
The 2002 OFC Nations Cup kicks off in Auckland, New Zealand on 5 July and will be the first official FIFA sanctioned international tournament following the World Cup Finals. With OFC yet again absent from the greatest stage in sports, Oceania's top eight ranked teams will be left to contest for the right to represent OFC at the FIFA Confederations Cup next year, which is regarded as a mini-World Cup.
This year's OFC Nations Cup is set to be the most competitive tournament ever with the island nations hungry to end the domination of Australia and New Zealand. The likes of Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands have shown dramatic improvement in recent years and have swung the balance of power slightly in recent Oceania youth tournaments indicating their time is nigh. The Vanuatu side arrived in Auckland last Wednesday and played a warm-up game against a local academy side, winning 3-1.
On the other hand, reigning Oceania champions, Australia will be hurting from last year's World Cup Qualifying loss to Uruguay and will want to rectify things in Auckland despite a disruptive build-up which only saw their participation confirmed in recent weeks. Coach Frank Farina returns from duty at the World Cup Finals with fresh ideas and determined to lead the Socceroos to a victory.
The New Zealand All Whites are seeking revenge for their loss to the Socceroos in the 2000 OFC Nations Cup final in Tahiti. They have prepared well under new coach Mick Waitt with warm-up games lined up against touring Scottish side Dunfermline following a brief tour of China they are currently undertaking.
In its first tour match, the All Whites came back from behind 0-2 to draw the game 2-2 against a strong China Olympic squad in Beijing. Several players in that squad were in the national team that competed at the World Cup Finals. The All Whites followed this up with a 5-0 rout of leading Chinese 'C' League side Shandong.
The All Whites will thrive on the home advantage when it opens its Group B campaign at North Harbour Stadium against Tahiti on Friday 5 July, while the Socceroos open their Group A account the following evening at Ericsson Stadium against Vanuatu.
Tickets for the 2002 OFC Nations Cup are on sale through the Response Ltd Ticket Call Centre (09) 300 3700, online at www.response.co.nz and at the Bruce Mason Centre and Post Shops nationwide.
The OFC website is currently under construction. Tournament information, schedules and updates can also be found on these websites; Weekly Soccer Observer at www.soccerobserver.co.nz, New Zealand Soccer at www.soccernz.co.nz, Soccer Australia at www.socceraustralia.com.au, www.nzsoccerscoreboard.com
Information can also be sought from various New Zealand Federation soccer websites including:
United Soccer 1 www.unitedsoccer1.org.nz, Soccer 2 www.soccer2.org.nz, Southland Soccer soccersouthland.d2g.com, Capital Soccer www.soccer.org.nz, Southern Federation www.southernfed.co.nz, Wanganui Soccer www.soccerwanganui.org.nz.