On the back of their stunning qualification and form at South Africa 2010, New Zealand will start as warm favourites to claim one of two berths from Group B into the third and final stage of Oceania qualifying. However the All Whites face a tough road after being drawn alongside Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
The Fijians were, for many years, the most competitive of all the Pacific Island nations and have shown recent glimpses of returning to their former status. The Solomons famously eliminated New Zealand in the race for Germany 2006 and are capable of beating any Oceania opposition on their day. While arguably group outsiders, Papua New Guinea defeated the Kiwis in 1997 in their maiden campaign, with football in the Melanesian nation undergoing a renaissance in recent times.
As recently as 2004, New Zealand’s FIFA World Cup™ push finished in abject failure, with defeat against Vanuatu allowing Solomon Islands to finish second behind Australia. Since then New Zealand football has grown exponentially, resulting in the All Whites astonishingly becoming the only undefeated nation at South Africa 2010.
Fiji: Like New Zealand, the Fijians endured a trough during their Germany 2006 campaign but recent form suggests that is now behind the Pacific Islands’ traditional powerhouse. By far the most experienced Pacific nation in FIFA World Cup qualifying – their debut was in 1981 – Fiji were the only nation to defeat New Zealand in South Africa 2010 qualifiers.
Solomon Islands: Without doubt Solomon Islands possess the most fanatical fan base in Oceania, with crowds at the Lawson Tama stadium in Honiara regularly well in excess of five figures. The Solomons have proven themselves more than adept on the field as well, displaying natural ability and athleticism in reaching the Oceania play-off against Australia in their drive for Germany 2006.
Player to watch
Though only just out of his teenage years, pacy flanker Marco Rojas is expected to be a key player for New Zealand in their push for Brazil 2014 and beyond. Having joined Australia’s biggest club Melbourne Victory, Rojas, of Chilean extraction, adds much-needed x-factor to Ricki Herbert’s squad.
The crunch match
The match-up between Fiji and Solomon Islands is likely to be pivotal to the outcome of Group B. Though the pair have a strong rivalry, they have met just once in FIFA World Cup qualifying, that being a 2-1 victory in 2004 which allowed the Solomons to progress to the Oceania play-off.
A look back
Papua New Guinea 1-0 New Zealand, 31 May 1997, Port Moresby
In their first FIFA World Cup qualifying tilt, and in just their third match of the campaign, Papua New Guinea inflicted a stunning 1-0 defeat of New Zealand which still ranks as a nadir in the history of the All Whites. While such a result may seem unthinkable now, PNG will take much heart from their premier club team, Hekari United, who utilised home ground conditions to their advantage to defeat New Zealand opposition in Port Moresby and claim the Oceania club crown in 2010.
12 – Osea Vakatalesau’s dozen strikes in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers made the Fijian striker, along with Burkina Faso’s Moumouni Dagano, the top goalscorer in global qualifying for South Africa 2010. Since then the burly No 9 has played in New Zealand’s domestic league and for Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Did you know?
Out of all of the teams to qualify for South Africa 2010, New Zealand, together with the Netherlands, contested the fewest games with only eight matches played. Yet in reaching their only other appearance on the world stage 28 years earlier, the Kiwis played a then record 15 matches.
Have your say
Can two of Fiji, Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea prevent New Zealand from a top-two finish and progression to Round Three?