Move over New Zealand. After sitting pretty on the top of the Oceanian Zone teams in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking since Australia's move to the AFC,,the All Whites now find themselves staring up at Fiji, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Samoa who are celebrating their highest-ever positions in the Ranking since it began in August 1993.
True enough, the turnaround has come largely to the participation of the five teams in the South Pacific Games Samoa 2007, a competition which served as the first round of OFC qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. New Zealand, on the other hand, are yet to start their preliminary campaign having received a bye to the next stage of the competition, which begins next month in the form of the OFC Nations Cup.
It may be surprising to discover that the biggest mover in the region and the highest ranked team did not win the competition in Samoa. Fiji, who now proudly boast the highest rise of the Ranking this year - their 51 place jump beating Armenia's 48 place rise in June - actually finished runners-up behind New Caledonia.
Fiji, who are now in 119th position, were the favourites to take the goal medal, but fell at the final hurdle to a well-organised New Caledonia side. Yet, the result of the final should take nothing away from their impressive performances throughout the event. In the group stages they disposed of Tuvalu 16-0, and enjoyed 4-0 victories over Cook Islands and Tahiti. They were held to a 1-1 draw by New Caledonia in their final group game, but bounced back to record a 3-0 win over Vanuatu, before losing to Jose Hmae's 61st minute goal in the final.
New Caledonia's first place finish takes them five places behind the Fijians to 124th spot, a 44-place rise. These are exciting times for the country who have only been FIFA members for three years and who were making their FIFA World Cup debut at the South Pacific Games. The New Caledonians were assured of their participation in the OFC Nations Cup, by defeating the Solomon Islands in the semi-final, but they reached a new high with the 1-0 defeat of a Fijian side who had finished ahead of them in Group A by virtue of scoring far more goals (25 compared to six).
Vanuatu finished third in the tournament with the goals of Seule Soromon and Francois Sakama helping them to bronze. Arguably the country's finest footballing export, the No10 (Seule Soromon )fired nine goals in the competition, one short of Golden Boot winner, the Fijian Osea Vaketalesau, who registered ten,. Vanuatu defeated the Solomon Islands 2-0 in the match for third place, giving them a berth in the Nations Cup and also propelling them to 133rd position.
Samoa and the Solomon Islands may not have finished among the medals, but they too had reason to cheer when the Ranking was announced. The Samoans rose to 147th, up 44, while the Solomons find themselves in 121st position an improvement of 40 places.
So, Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands are currently sitting above the likes of Korea DPR and Estonia - as well as their continental rivals New Zealand. Ricki Herbert's Kiwis will be looking to redress the balance with the Fijians and the New Caledonians at the forthcoming Nations Cup, but it will not be easy against a three sides at the peak of confidence, with each not wanting to give up their hard-earned positions in the Ranking.