Since the Socceroos said hooroo, OFC qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ has been monopolised by the men in white. New Zealand won their first five matches at the 2008 OFC Nations Cup to book a play-off for a South Africa 2010 place, which they seized with a 1-0 aggregate defeat of Bahrain. After going undefeated in that tournament and finishing above defending champions Italy in Group F, the Kiwis won all six of their qualifiers in the final round of regional qualifying for Brazil 2014.
There is no doubt New Zealand are the team to beat, and there is no doubt that Anthony Hudson and his troops will have been satisfied with the Preliminary Draw for Oceanian qualifying for Russia 2018, which unfolded at the Konstantinovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
The All Whites avoided New Caledonia and Tahiti, the second- and third-highest positioned OFC representatives on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. The New Caledonians shockingly upset the regional hulks in the last Nations Cup semi-finals, before losing to the Tahitians in the decider.
Instead, New Zealand, who boast West Ham United centre-back Winston Reid, Marseille prospect Bill Tuiloma and Stuttgart-owned winger Marco Rojas, will face Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu in Group B. The Solomons did draw with the two-time World Cup appearants in Brazil 2014 qualifying, but they have lost all four of the teams’ tussles thereafter.
The fact that the Solomon Islands have lost their last eight games, and plummeted to an all-time low on the FIFA Ranking, will give hope Fiji and Vanuatu that they can achieve a top-three finish and, consequently, advance to the final phase.
Fiji beat New Zealand 2-0 in South Africa 2010 qualifying, and have not lost by more than a one-goal margin since 2007. Furthermore, in Wellington Phoenix forward Roy Krishna, who scored at a FIFA Club World Cup won by Bayern Munich in 2013, they have a genuine genius.
New Caledonia, the birthplace of World Cup winner Christian Karembeu, and Tahiti will be the favourites to progress from Group A. The latter beat the former 1-0 in the latest Nations Cup final, but the New Caledonians exacted revenge by beating the Tahitians to win gold at the recent Pacific Games.
The pool also features Papa New Guinea, 202nd and eighth-bottom on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and the winner of a four-team qualification group comprising America Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga.
The top three teams from each section will compete in a round-robin battle for the right to face a South American side for a place at Russia 2018.