Fancy playing in the next World Cup finals? Then get yourself down into the Pacific and sit in a bar for a couple of years and get residency to play for the likes of New Caledonia, Vanuata or Fiji and you could be just eight games away from realising your dream.
When Australia decided that they had had enough of playing pub players in their qualifying rounds for the World Cup and moved to the Asian Confederation, many people thought they were mad at giving up an easy route to the World Cup finals. To add insult to injury, FIFA then decided that the winner of the Oceania group would face a play off not with the 5th placed South American team, as Australia had to endure in 2001 and 2005 but the “best 3rd place team” in the Asian Confederation. So that essentially left the regions best place team, New Zealand with a clear route to a shoot out for the finals in South Africa.
Being in a group with Fiji (131rd in world), New Caledonia (146th) and Vanuata (153rd) hardly stopped New Zealand planning for their trip to South Africa when the draw was made in 2007 for the final stages of the Oceania group. Of course for these teams the tournament actually started in August 2007 as the South Pacific Games in Samoa. Ten nations battled for three spots to join New Zealand in the final qualifying group.
America Samoa, famous for their record 31-0 defeat to Australia in 2001, were true to their 202nd in the world ranking by losing 12-1 to Solomon Islands, 7-0 to Samoa in front of over 2,000 locals and 15-0 to Vanuata.
The final pitted New Caledonia against Fiji with both countries as well as 3rd place winner Vanuata progressing through to meet New Zealand.
The final group stage was also determined to be the Oceania championship with the winner also qualifying for the 2009 Confederations Cup also in South Africa. It came as no surprise that the All Whites walked through their first five games, qualifying with their 3-0 win at home to New Caledonia.
Before their two legged play off with Bahrain the team headed off to South Africa for the Confederations Cup where they took a solitary point (against Iraq) from their games against Spain, South Africa and Iraq, failing to score a single goal. Bahrain, on the other hand had narrowly beaten Saudi Arabia in the AFC play off after finishing in third place in their group behind Australia and Japan – hardly a walk in the park. However, New Zealand, ranked 79th in the world beat the Arabian’s 1-0 in front of a record 35,194 people in Wellington to secure their place in the World Cup.
So what you may say…Well, with a population of just 12,300 Tuvalu is the place to go. Part of the Commonwealth and located halfway between Hawaii and Australia they are ranked 202 in the FIFA world rankings, officially joint lowest in the world. But with a population less than Beaconsfield there are less than 150 registered players and so your chances of a game are pretty high. Shore up their defence, qualify through the 2011 Pacific Games, beat New Zealand, overcome a playoff with the Asian best runner up and then you will be on that plane to Brazil in 2014……..Or you could just go as a fan.