The standout section
The legendary Mario Zagallo, a FIFA World Cup™ winner as both a player and coach, as well as Felipe Bastos, drew out a fascinating lineup for Group B in Oceania. New Zealand face a difficult task if they are to repeat their South Africa 2010 heroics after being pitted against Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. To progress to the third stage in Oceania, the reigning continental champions must overcome at least two of Fiji, the Pacific’s traditional heavyweight; Solomon Islands, top-two finishers from Germany 2006 qualifying; and the rapidly improving football nation that is Papua New Guinea.
Undefeated at South Africa 2010 after ending a 28-year wait to appear on the world stage, New Zealand will remain confident of advancing given their progress of recent years, although they will be wary of some potentially awkward opposition, not least from the always dynamic Solomon Islands, who finished ahead of the All Whites in the race for Germany 2006. Group A has a distinctly Francophone look with Vanuatu arguably the best placed to progress following their success at club level recently; they also have in their keep one of the more famous regional results of modern times, a 4-2 victory over New Zealand in 2004. Joining them in the group are French Polynesian neighbours New Caledonia and Tahiti. The fourth and final Group A position will be filled by the Round One victors, with American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga forming the quartet of aspirants.
After a disappointing campaign for South Africa 2010 when they missed the final group stage, Tahiti will harbour high hopes after avoiding some of the region’s elite, namely New Zealand, Fiji and the Solomons. Equally happy with the draw after being placed in the same Group A will be the four Round One participants, one of whom will have the chance to win through to the group stage.
The crunch matches
New Zealand-Fiji: The pair share an interesting FIFA World Cup history dating back to 1981. The Islanders’ 2-0 victory in this fixture last time around proved to be New Zealand’s only defeat of their entire South Africa 2010 campaign.
Vanuatu-New Caledonia: This contest will go a long way to deciding top spot in Group A. The ever-improving Vanuatuans will be hunting New Caledonia who finished second behind New Zealand four years ago.
9 – The number of times New Zealand and Fiji have met in Oceania FIFA World Cup preliminary matches; a record amongst current participating OFC members. The pair will extend that number after again being drawn together in Group B.
The next step
The four highest-placed teams, i.e. the top two in each group, will advance to Round Three. The draw date, location, and procedure for Round Three will be confirmed by the end of Round Two by the Organising Committee for Brazil 2014. The four Round Three teams will be drawn into a round-robin, home-and-away group and the winner will advance to an intercontinental play-off against the fourth-placed team in CONCACAF.
Have your say
Will the All Whites close in on a second successive FIFA World Cup appearance or can another of the contenders claim the spoils?