Impressive performances during the South Pacific Games in Apia, Samoa gave Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu a place alongside New Zealand in the second stage of Oceanian Zone qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Although Ricki Herbert's All Whites will be expected to progress to the play-off with the fifth-placed Asian side in 2009, they will be well aware that the so-called 'island nations' are making strides on the footballing scene. Indeed, the trio managed to squeeze out the Solomon Islands, the OFC's representatives at the 2006 and 2007 editions of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, into fourth place in Samoa.
With a quickly improving sense of tactical acumen to add to their raw ability, each put in promising performances, sending a message to their illustrious rivals that upsets may well be on the cards.
New Zealand will also be a little wary, having learned from the experience of their qualification campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. They were forced into third place at this stage of the competition last time around, having finished below Australia and the Solomon Islands who contested the OFC play-off to decide who would meet Uruguay for a spot in Germany.
The Kiwis are expecting hard-fought matches against Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu, who all occupied a higher place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking than New Zealand when the second stage of began in October 2007. However, despite their lack of competitive experience in recent years, New Zealand are still overwhelming favourites to be crowned as champions of the region.
Add in Australia's departure to Asia and many football aficionados believe that New Zealand have never had a better opportunity to equal the achievements of their Class of 1982 and qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals. Time will tell if they are able to achieve their lofty ambitions.