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Pacific nations vie for World Cup berth

The match remains as distant from a 2022 World Cup as its venue is from the Pacific, but the chance of an Oceania nation claiming the last of the 32 spots finally will start with Tonga and Cook Islands.

The game’s minnows kick-off their sudden death chance in a preliminary playoff for the right to join seven other regional rivals in the main draw of a tournament that runs from March 14-30 in Qatar.

SI v Van
Solomon Islands and Vanuatu clash in a 2019 match. Picture: Solomon Islands Football Federation Media.

The Oceania qualifiers will be held solely at the hosts of the world’s biggest sporting event every four years, but will do so without Samoa and American Samoa.

The neighbouring countries withdrew over their governments’ strict Covid-19 travel restrictions over fear of the virus spreading across the Pacific that has been largely untouched but has still postponed the confederation’s home and away fixtures scheduled throughout this year.

The unusual switch to a tournament format in a middle eastern location has Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Vanuatu and either Tonga or Cook Islands in group A, while New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Fiji form a stronger group B after the draw was announced on Tuesday in Switzerland.

The top two teams from each of the groups following just three matches advance to the semi-finals, with the two winners set to clash in the final.

Oceania draw
A FIFA official looks to pull out one of the balls that represent each of the eight Oceania nations competing in the region’s tournament main draw. Picture: FIFA

The Oceania Football Confederation champion will later advance to an intercontinental playoff with the fourth-placed nation from the CONCACAF region that features North America, Central America and Caribbean teams, for a spot at the World Cup finals.

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New Zealand was the last nation from the region to qualify for the World Cup following the return of the All Whites for the first time in 28 years in South Africa in 2010.

Peru took the final place at the 2018 World Cup after winning a playoff against the New Zealanders.

 

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