Football In Africa
The South Pacific Games’ men’s and women’s football tournaments got underway in Samoa with nine of the eleven OFC member associations beginning their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaigns at Toleafoa JS Blatter Football Field in Apia. New Caledonia surged to the final after defeating Tuvalu 1-0, Tahiti 1-0 and Cook Islands 3-0, and earning a 1-1 draw with Fiji. Coach Didier Chambaron declared himself satisfied with the team’s performances in the first round but was ecstatic after a thrilling 3-2 win over Solomon Islands in the semi-finals thanks to a Yohann Mercier header past Fred Hale four minutes into injury time. Solomon Islands had Alick Maemae and Gideon Omokirio sent off midway through the second half. Fiji looked the strongest team in the tournament with wins over Tuvalu (16-0), Tahiti (4-0) and Cook Islands (4-0) before a 1-1 draw with New Caledonia and a 3-0 triumph against Vanuatu in the semi-finals.
In the women’s competition, Tonga caused a major upset by defeating Fiji 1-0 in the semi-finals to set up a dream final against favourites Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea’s campaign had run hot and cold with a 6-0 win over American Samoa and a 1 -0 defeat to Fiji in the first round. By contrast, although Tonga have hardly set the world on fire of late, they have conceded just one goal in their last six international matches. The winner of the women’s competition will face New Zealand in a two-leg qualifying play-off for a spot in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
OFC’s Football for Life charity matches between Fiji and a New Zealand XI have helped raise funds for the Solomon Islands tsunami relief effort and the Feed Our Vatukoula Children fund in Fiji. All proceeds from the two matches have been earmarked for the two worthy causes. OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas paid tribute to FIFA, New Zealand Football and the Fiji Football Association for their assistance in making the project possible with Christian Karembeu also in attendance at both matches. The New Zealand XI won the first match 2-1. Fiji won the second match in Lautoka 1-0.