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It’s time FIFA reconsiders the Confederations Cup bid to the Oceania region

Jun 17, 2013, 5:19 PM EDT

FBL-WC2014-CONFED-TAH-NGR Getty Images

Everybody loves an underdog. Everybody enjoys rooting for those with the odds stacked against them. It makes for a great story, makes for great television, and makes for great sport.

Unless those underdogs get slaughtered. Over and over and over.

Since FIFA took over the King Fahd Cup and made it the Confederations Cup in 1997, it’s been about bringing the best from every region and pitting them against each other in a warmup tournament for the World Cup.

Obviously, some regions are typically much stronger than others. Europe has dominated world soccer for a long time, with both top teams and wonderful depth. But every now and then countries from other regions such as South America, Africa, and even North America have made noise on an international level, and even Asia has a touch of ability.

Underdogs such as Japan, Australia, and the United States have made noise in both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface on Cinderella stories over the years.

Then there’s Oceania. The bid from the Oceania region to the Confederations Cup is a stretch, and one that does nobody any good.

After watching tiny little Tahiti get manhandled at the hands of Nigeria in their opening match of this year’s competition, I cringe at the thought of them facing Spain and Uruguay in the coming days. The African representatives “only” won 6-1, but it probably should have been about 12-1 had they been more focused.

It’s all well and good to give countries a chance to compete at the highest level, and by all accounts it’s probably their “right” to appear in the tournament like any other region. But do we really want to allow countries like Tahiti to appear in the competition just to watch them get embarrassed in front of a worldwide audience every four years? New Zealand may have half a chance to grab a point or two, but is thay enough to justify it?

The little Oceanic country had one aim coming into the competition: don’t concede a goal for a half. They even scored a goal against a Nigerian team clearly looking ahead to other matches, a beautiful moment no doubt. But European oddsmakers set the chances for the Iron Warriors of Tahiti to beat Nigeria at 500/1, and odds to win the competition at anywhere from 1000/1 to 10000/1.

Since the birth of the modern Confederations Cup in 1997, teams from the Oceania region have amassed a measly 11 points in group play over the 7 tournaments. 10 of those points were obtained by Australia, who have now left the Oceania region to play in Asia.

That leaves New Zealand with the only point by any country currently in the region. Thrice the Oceanic country was blanked in group play.

The countries currently forming the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) are: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanutau. Kiribati, Niue, and Tuvalu aren’t even FIFA members. Only three of those countries have a population higher than 300,000 people.

Nigeria’s Nnamdi Oduamadi scored a hat-trick against Tahiti, the ninth hat-trick in Confederations Cup history. Five of those have come against Oceania opponents.

Only four times have a member of the OFC made it to the World Cup. The OFC are the only region which does not have a guaranteed World Cup spot – the top teams must compete in playoffs with other confederations for spots – so why are they guaranteed a spot in the Confederations Cup?

There are plenty of other ways to give out the spot in order to maintain an even eight members of the competition. The best idea I’ve been able to come up with is to give the spot to the highest-ranking country not already invited. The FIFA rankings are a bit arbitrary, but seeing as the competition is FIFA sanctioned, why not?

If FIFA is insistent on keeping the competition based on regional tournaments, they could just dub Europe as the dominant region and give it to the runners-up in the Euros. They could allow Oceania the ability to make the competition with a playoff against some other opponent, but it would probably be too much to expand a non-World Cup tournament into a “qualifier.”

Finally, there’s the option of just condensing Oceania into Asia either partially or altogether, but that would put a burden of high expense on small countries in Oceania to travel long distances on a regular basis, and it would obviously have widespread consequences on the Asian Cup, World Cup qualifiers, etc.

I understand it’s a world competition, and therefore the right of everyone to take place in the tournament. However, it must be earned to play at the highest level. Oceania flat out hasn’t proven they have the ability to have any chance of competing. And it’s not like they’d be completely eliminated from contention. Anyone in the world can qualify through either hosting the World Cup, or winning the Big One. Clearly almost impossible if not incredibly unlikely, but aren’t their chances of making any noise in the Confederations Cup pretty much the same?

I give the Tahiti players an immense amount of credit for their bravery in taking this opportunity with open arms, and I’m sure these matches mean the world to them. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the players.

However, it’s painful to watch these poor players play so hard and still get slaughtered. It’s a wonderful story for Tahiti to be in the competition, but it’s not fun to watch them get picked apart. They have one professional player, and it showed. It would make for much better competition and therefore a much better watch if the spot were given to a more deserving, worthy, and able opponent.

  1. talgrath - Jun 17, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    The problem, of course, is getting everyone to agree on how Oceania’s play-off spot is supposed to be divied up. If you go with the one region gets a half-spot idea, then the other regions will howl that is unfair as that region gets 1.5 spots. If you go with highest ranked not already in the tournament, regions like North America, Africa and Asia will complain that those rankings (in their opinion, unfairly) rate countries from Europe and South America higher, essentially giving one of those a spot. The only other solution is a world=wide, eight-team play-off/single elimination tournament amongst second place teams in each other region and Oceania, save that that is awfully expensive for everyone involved for what is essentially a mic-check for the World Cup. I don’t see a lot of great options to “fix” the tournament. Besides that, the Confederations Cup really doesn’t matter, it is only important if your team is in it and so we can access the stadiums and infrastructure of the host nation ahead of the World Cup.

    • mickeycool34 - Jul 14, 2013 at 7:31 AM

      To be quite honest whats the problem? Its not as though its the world cup or tahiti would win it ir anything. You only improve by playing better teams look at liechtenstein luxembourg even san marino. People keep moaning why arent they playing pre qualifiers as its not competitive but really if countries are good enough they will easily win and go through and actually i’d rather see these countries play not just the same old brazil spain italy etc which gets predictable. Years ago liechtenstein were beat 7-0 but now its 2-1 1-0 etc so hiw can tahiti etc improve if they dont play these games and actually at times they were exciting to watch.There were loads of competitive matches in this tournament and its not a world cup in which fifa ranks confederations anyway and oceania has to play off but at least they get a chance to get to the world cup finals

  2. mikeevergreen - Jun 17, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    Yo Kyle, this is the place the little guy gets to play with the big boys. They sure don’t act humiliated, do they? No. They go in with eyes wide open.

    talgrath, the infrastructure of brazil seems to be lousy, especially for games played in Recife.

  3. ryanw822 - Jun 17, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    Does it really even matter though? We’re talking about the Confederations Cup, not the World Cup. Let these guys have their moment to play against the world’s best in a meaningless tournament.

    If they got a free pass into the World Cup then you can make an argument.

    • Kyle Bonn - Jun 17, 2013 at 6:39 PM

      The Confederations Cup matters a lot more to other countries than it does here. Not a slouch tournament anymore by any stretch.

  4. bellerophon30 - Jun 17, 2013 at 6:38 PM

    I’m with Ryan, this is only the Confederations Cup, a made up tournament that really doesn’t make much of an impact in the long run. I mean, who does it really harm for (most of the time) New Zealand to get some (sort of) real games against top national teams? Besides, if you take it to Kyle’s extremes, CONCACAF and CAF don’t belong in there either, nor does Asia. It’s all about how far you take it.

    The half a slot for the World Cup makes a lot of sense, especially if the play-off is against Asia or CONCACAF. You think Mexico or Honduras is itching to play a home and home against a Kiwi team that didn’t lose at the last World Cup (no, they didn’t win either, I’m aware of that).?

    As for Tahiti, I just finished watching the game, and those guys gave everything they had, and they were a lot of fun to watch. I do hope Spain takes it easy on them, and it’s not 20-0. But the Tahitian players will have these memories for their entire lives………could the Germans, Argentines, whomever would ‘qualify’ for that spot otherwise say the same?

    Yeah, I think not too.

  5. dfstell - Jun 17, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    I’m not sure I see the big deal with allowing the Oceania team to get smashed. I mean, if you don’t allow Oceania in, it kinda defeats the purpose of the whole Confederation’s Cup.

    I always thought the purpose of the C. Cup was to (a) make some cash for FIFA and (b) to give the host country a warning that they are in no way prepared to host the WC the next year.

  6. ktasay - Jun 17, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    Whatever decisions were made to allow Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines to join the Asian Confederation need to be reevaluated. Sure they would overpower the smaller island nations, but that way Oceania would at least be able to field a team capable of competing with at least SOME of the stronger continental champions.

    Of all the confederations, Oceania (11) and CONMEBOL (10) have the least members, adding more teams can greatly help Oceania. For CONMEBOL, the only way to increase the number of teams would be to take some or most of the Caribbean island teams from CONCACAF, while that may be a benefit to the North/Central American teams, many of the Island teams may face much harder challenges than they do now. Perhaps splitting the Caribbean island teams between both confederations based on proximity to each continent would be the best for balance.

  7. @C_Tobin - Jun 17, 2013 at 8:07 PM

    2021 is going to be great if Oceania still has a berth, two guppies.

    Group A:
    South Korea

    Group B:
    New Zealand

    And you know Qatar will rig the draw so they get the Oceania team in their group.

  8. pjbowmaster - Jun 17, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    It’s time for Oceana to become a sub-region like the Caribbean. Let them determine their representatives to compete in a larger region like Asia or South America. I throw SA in there only because it’s the smallest region. Oceana is a joke as a stand alone confederation.

    • bellerophon30 - Jun 20, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      The main argument I’ve heard against this is travel, I have to imagine that a Samoa to Uzbekistan hop is a long one, and probably expensive for island federations and their amateur players.

      A more radical idea is to fold them into CONCACAF, with Mexico and the US going to CONMEBOL. Give the new region of guppies 1 1/2 slots, with us and Mexico taking 2 slots with us to South America.

  9. jocoolwu - Jun 17, 2013 at 10:13 PM

    Shouldn’t the bigger question be how Tahiti managed to get by New Zealand? These players will never ever play in a World Cup. This is the highest stage they will ever get to. The Confederations Cup has gained some popularity, but in the grand scheme of things is still a tournament that is an “exhibition” and designed in it’s original form as a “test run” for the World Cup. As long as the tournament stays that way I have no problem allowing continental champs from all regions to play. If the tournament ever reaches a stage where it’s no longer an exhibition then we should rethink who gets there.

    Australia got out of Oceania for competitive reasons. You can only get better when you face tougher competition. I applaud their choice, even though it’s been a mixed bag of results.

    • bellerophon30 - Jun 20, 2013 at 9:27 PM

      They didn’t get by New Zealand, New Caledonia beat the Kiwi’s in the semi’s……..and rumor has it, most of the Kiwi’s were hungover. Then Tahiti won the final.

      • mickeycool34 - Jul 14, 2013 at 7:40 AM

        Yeah but new caledonia beat new zealand so they werent good enough to win it

  10. futbolhistorian - Jun 17, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    “But every now and then countries from other regions such as South America …have made noise on an international level”

    Every now and then? 9 world cup championships?

    • term3186 - Jun 17, 2013 at 11:14 PM

      Yeahhhhh. 9 out of 19 World Cup wins is a little bit more significant than “every now and then”.

  11. danielofthedale - Jun 18, 2013 at 2:54 AM

    Call me crazy, but after watching the Spain vs Uruguay and Nigeria vs Tahiti games but I think Tahiti played better in their game than Uruguay did against Spain. Sure Tahiti lost by five and Uruguay by just one, but that score line was more than flattering to Uruguay. Not saying Tahiti will look as good as in the next two games or Uruguay as bad, but after the first games in the group I think the gap was not as large as this article makes it

  12. unitedlee - Jun 20, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    Pretty much agree with everyone on here. The Confederations Tournament is a good competition but it is mostly just a tune for the world cup for the host country. It is fun to see Brazil-Mexico, Spain-Uruguay, etc… but is also great to see countries like Tahiti get a shot vs the big boys. And it drives me nuts to see these elitist, arrogant articles(like te ones talking about the UEFA qualifying) of how the the non powers don’t deserve to be on the big stage with the rest of the world because they may not be as good as the other countries competing in it. FIFA is about fair play and this gives a country like Tahiti a fair shot to compete with the likes of Spain.

    • mickeycool34 - Jul 14, 2013 at 7:58 AM

      Totally agree with you. Why shouldnt tahiti get a shot at playing the best teams as oceania in a fair world should be equal to everyone else. Kind of like saying a disabled person shouldnt get a chance at working at aplace as they are disadvantaged and cannot do as much. They still have a right to be there especially as they might be great at things others might not be good at. If fifa decides and oceania agrees then they might be absorbed into another confederation but at the moment they are considered separate if they were absorbed it be right to say asia-oceania confederation. But culturally and historically oceania is quite different from asia although asia has the most diverse cultures and languages and the phillipines indonesia are related to oceania so oceania might become a sub section. I mean australia has more in common with europe than anything. Then australia would be back in the same subsection as tahiti new zealand. Do oceania want to join asia? But really you cannot currently treat one confederation differently from another as its not treating all confederations fairly. So the confederations cup is the best teams in each confederation so tahiti currently as with new zealand etc have a right to compete

  13. ashikjahan - Jun 24, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    The solution is simple. Give the host confederation 2.5 berths. This year, Brazil (as host) and Uruguay (Copa America winner) would get the two berths. Then the .5 would have gone to the Copa America runner up, Paraguay. Paraguay would then play Tahiti for that last spot in a home/away. Thereby allowing the minnows to earn their way in by doing more than beating New Caledonia.

    Really, what needs to happen is that the AFC is modified to have sub regions. i.e. Oceania (Australia, New Zealand), East Asia (Japan, Korea, Thailand, China etc), the Middle East, South/Central Asia (India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan etc). Asia is just too big to continue doing things they way they have been.

    To summarize, the host confederation should get that bonus. Other regions should not complain because they would get the same benefit when it is their turn to host.

  14. mickeycool34 - Jul 14, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    I would agree oceania would benefit as being part of asia competitively but the odd thing being the northern mariana islands is part if the east asian division yet are culturalky should be with australia in asean division

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