The Oceania Football Confederation takes a look back at the year 2013 and the progress of teams on the world stage.
The first competition to welcome in the new year was the OFC U17 Championship preliminary in Samoa. It proved a worthy opener as the four sides from Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga and Cook Islands put up strong performances in a bid to earn qualification for the OFC U17 Championship. A thrilling competition came right down to the wire with three teams in the running on the final day forcing the last two matches into simultaneous kick-offs. The Tuka Tisam-coached Cook Islands side's 2-1 victory over the hosts saw them top the table after American Samoa lost 3-2 to Tonga.
The Tiki Toa, Tahiti's national beach soccer team, got their pre-FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup campaign underway on a major high as they took on France at home in Papeete. The home side completed a clean sweep of the three-match series showing they were in no way going to be an easy rival come September. While the French side didn't qualify for the World Cup they were a worthy opponent with a World Cup title and two top four finishes to their name.
The OFC U20 Championship was hosted in Fiji this year with Lautoka setting the stage for the tournament up until the final day, when the teams all travelled to Ba. New Zealand took the title to earn qualification for the FIFA U20 World Cup Turkey 2013, but it wasn't an easy run for the defending champions. They could muster just a one goal advantage over the likes of New Caledonia and Vanuatu and Fiji's run of form showed they weren't giving up without a fight, eventually earning second place ahead of Vanuatu in third.
The Football Ferns made their first appearance of the year at the annual Cyprus Women's Cup. The side put forward some strong performances with a 2-1 victory over Switzerland enough to earn them third place on this occasion.
The stunning island of Santo in Vanuatu provided the backdrop for the OFC U17 Championship, welcoming six countries to Luganville Soccer City Stadium. Once again, the Pacific Islands proved that New Zealand is not as far ahead in development as it may have once been as New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji once again launched solid campaigns that came close to rattling the long-time champions. It wasn't enough on this occasion however as Darren Bazeley's side rose above their opponents to take the title with five wins from five matches, earning qualification for the FIFA U17 World Cup UAE 2013.
The Tiki Toa continued their build-up this time making yet another three-match series clean sweep, this time against the Beach Soccer World Cup bound Netherlands. While it was a chance for the visitors to get a taste of the conditions in Tahiti ahead of the tournament, it also provided the Tiki Toa with an example of what they can do against top-flight opposition.
The OFC executive committee travelled to Mauritius this month to hold its executive committee meeting alongside the FIFA Congress.
Closer to home, the OFC Champions League competition culminated in a third consecutive victory for Ramon Tribulietx and his Auckland City side as they downed cross-town rivals Waitakere United 2-1 to earn passage to their fifth FIFA Club World Cup. This month also saw women's football receive a huge boost of confidence around the Pacific as Wellington played host to a FIFA Women's Development Seminar. The three-day seminar saw women's development officers and technical directors arrive en masse from OFC's 11 member associations.
After winning the OFC Nations Cup in 2012 Tahiti got their chance on the world stage as the FIFA Confederations Cup got underway in Brazil. Faced with some outstanding teams opposite all eyes were on the Pacific minnows. They were undone in the end by some classy opponents including a 10-0 defeat to finalists and 2010 World Cup winners Spain, and an 8-0 rout at the hands of Uruguay. The Toa Aito's courage and never-give-up attitude made them a crowd favourite and that was furthered along when Jonathan Tehau leapt clear to connect with a deep corner and score Tahiti's first goal in the final stages of a FIFA competition. They may have finished without a win but the Toa Aito captured the imagination and hearts of football fans around the world.
New Zealand's Young All Whites headed to Turkey to represent Oceania at the FIFA U20 World Cup. Drawn in a difficult group that included Croatia, Uruguay and Uzbekistan Chris Milicech's side struggled to overcome the odds as three defeats saw them knocked out of the group stages.
The inaugural OFC Futsal Championship Invitational held at Trust's Stadium in Auckland was this month's highlight as the national teams from New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti were joined by AFC sides Australia and Malaysia. It came as little surprise that Malaysia and Australia found themselves vying for the title in the final, with Australia taking the silverware courtesy of a 5-1 victory. What was possibly more interesting to Oceania futsal followers was the differences in the local sides since the last OFC Futsal Championship in 2011. The Solomon Islands struggled in the cool New Zealand climate losing 7-3 to an up-and-coming New Zealand side. The Kiwis eventually claimed third after beating Tahiti, another Oceania side on the up, 1-0 in the play-off and heralding in a new era of futsal for the region.
OFC president and FIFA vice-president David Chung travelled to Samoa this month for the inauguration of the FIFA Goal IV Project. This project, overseen by the FIFA development office through development officer Glenn Turner, saw an outdoor futsal surface installed at J. S. Blatter Football Complex in Tuanaimato, and a regional technical centre on the island of Savai'i. Both were important additions for the growth and development of football in Samoa and the openings were well attended by local dignitaries, the public and the media.
This proved to be the month of beach soccer with the OFC Beach Soccer Championships in Noumea, New Caledonia kicking things off. The regional competition had just three participants this year hosts and newcomers New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, with Tahiti gaining automatic entry as hosts of the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. New Caledonia caused quite an upset when they edged out Vanuatu 7-6 in their first ever-international match in this discipline, but experience proved the winner in the end as Solomon Islands did away with Vanuatu 8-3 and New Caledonia 6-0, qualifying for the FIFA tournament and giving Oceania two solid representatives in Tahiti.
The Beach Soccer World Cup proved a memorable event for the region as well as around the world as Tahiti proved they are the hosts with most. And with two Oceania sides representing the region there was plenty of action for fans around the region to follow. The Solomon Islands Bilikiki gave their all but in the end couldn't quite manage to set up the first ever meeting of two OFC sides in the quarter-finals after being beaten 7-6 by El Salvador. The side still managed to make the history books however, with their opening 2-0 win over the Netherlands equalling the lowest-scoring match record in the tournament's history. Tahiti did make it through to the quarter-finals in an inspiring run of form that took them all the way to the third-place play-off. They beat Argentina 6-1 in the quarter-finals before being undone by the clinical eventual victors Russia 5-3 taking them to the play-off. With everything on the line and in front of a home crowd the Tiki Toa gave Brazil a run for their money with a 7-7 lock at the end of extra time thanks to a last-gasp goal from captain Naea Bennett. Unfortunately the fairy tale ending and a podium finish wasn't to be as they went out in the penalty shootout, but this side has made their plans for the future heard around the world.
In a nod to a packed 2014 competitions calendar, the OFC Champions League Preliminary was held in the American Samoa capital of Pago Pago with the top clubs from Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands and American Samoa competing for a spot in the region's prestigious club competition in Fiji in April. All four teams put in stellar performances despite some at times trying weather conditions but in the end there can be only one winner. Samoa's Kiwi claimed the top spot after beating defending champions Tupapa Maraerenga of Cook Islands 3-0 in the final match of the tournament.
FIFA development manager Eva Pasquier made a return trip to Auckland this month as football's governing body hosted the second FIFA/OFC Development Seminar of the year, once again in Auckland, New Zealand. All 11 OFC member associations were represented by their CEOs or general secretaries, competition managers and finance officers as CEO/GS mentoring, finance and the strengthening of national leagues came under the spotlight.
The prospect of attending back-to-back FIFA World Cuptournaments was ruled out for New Zealand's All Whites this month as Mexico dominated the intercontinental play-off to earn passage.
The final major FIFA tournament of the year saw OFC Champions League victors Auckland City FC head to Morocco for their fifth appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup. Ramon Tribulietx took a strong side with a mix of experience and youth. Despite a gallant display which saw Fiji international striker Roy Krishna equalise and go into the history books as the first Fijian to score at any senior FIFA event, it wasn't enough. A goal in injury time allowed host club Raja Casablanca to snatch a 2-1 victory leaving the Oceania representatives to dream of what might have been.