Wed, Aug 22, 2007 - Page 18 News List

South Pacific island soccer teams start road to South Africa

AP , BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

Far-flung South Pacific island soccer teams with limited resources and nearly all-amateur players have the distinction of being the first group of countries to begin qualifying for the next World Cup.

In reality, the closest any of the players from the 10 teams in the Oceania Confederation qualifying tournament are likely to get to South Africa in 2010 is by watching the showcase tournament on their TV sets.

The FIFA-sanctioned event in Apia, Samoa which begins Saturday at the regional South Pacific Games, doubles as the first round of Oceania qualifying.

The Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, Tahiti and Tuvalu will play in one group, with American Samoa, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu in the other.

The finalists from the Sept. 7 gold medal match and the third-place finisher will qualify for the second Oceania round -- a four-country tournament with New Zealand.

It doesn't get any easier.

The winner of that tournament -- and based on rankings, it should be the Kiwis -- has to play an Asian Confederation team in a two-match series, with the winner advancing to the 2010 World Cup.

The odds that a team from Oceania will fill that role have been marginally improved by a switch to the Asian Confederation by Australia, the region's former powerhouse. After years of lobbying FIFA to get the Oceania confederation a direct entry at the World Cup, Australia finally joined the Asian qualifying tournament.

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