Ofc Confirms Dates For Nations Cup/world Cup Quali

The Oceania Football Confederation announced today that it has confirmed dates for the combined OFC Nations Cup/2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

The Oceania Football Confederation announced today that it has confirmed dates for the combined OFC Nations Cup/2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. These dates have now been submitted for final approval at the forthcoming 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany Bureau meeting in Zurich next month.  "We originally looked at commencing the qualifiers in March or April but due to problems with player availability and the lack of preparation time for the teams it was decided to move the start date back to May," said Acting OFC president, Tautulu Roebeck.  Ten teams will kick off the qualifying process when Stage One commences from 10-19 May 2004. Stage One will consist of two group tournaments with Solomon Islands hosting Group 1 and Samoa hosting Group 2.  The World Cup draw for the Oceanian Zone in Frankfurt last December saw the Solomon Islands placed in the same group as the Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti and Tonga while Samoa was joined by American Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.  The winner and runner up of each group advances to Stage Two where they will meet Australia and New Zealand in a six team, single round robin tournament hosted in Australia from 28 May - 6 June 2004. A venue is in the process of being finalised and will be announced soon. The winner and runner up from Stage Two will earn the right to play off on a home and away basis, twice. The first occasion will be to decide the OFC Nations Cup champion on 9 & 13 October 2004. The two teams will meet again almost a year later on 3 & 7 September 2005 to decide who will advance to Stage Four to play off against the 5th placed qualifying team from CONMEBOL (South America) for a full berth at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. FIFA will announce the dates for Stage Four in due course.  With more than a World Cup berth at stake, the forthcoming qualifiers are expected to be extremely competitive. There is double incentive for the two teams that will progress from Stage Two. Besides becoming a step closer to Germany, the title of OFC Nations Cup champion is also at stake with the winner qualifying to represent Oceania at the lucrative 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup in Germany and also the biennial AFC-OFC Challenge Cup series.  "The OFC is confident the decision to merge the OFC Nations Cup and the World Cup qualifiers will lead to an interesting tussle between the teams and quality football for the fans and sponsors," Roebeck added.  New Zealand go into this year's qualifiers as the reigning OFC Nations Cup champion after their shock upset of the Australians nearly two years ago in Auckland. New Zealand is also the last country to ever grace the World Cup stage back in 1982. Australia represented the Oceania region at the last World Cup play off but went down to Uruguay in a second leg loss after winning the first leg at home.  2004 OFC Nations Cup - 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers  Stage One: Solomon Islands (Group 1), Samoa (Group 2) 10-19 May 2004 Stage Two: Australia (venue tbc) 28 May - 6 June 2004 Stage Three: OFC Nations Cup final (home and away) 9/13 October 2004 Stage Three: OFC World Cup play off (home and away) 3/7 September 2005 Stage Four: OFC/CONMEBOL play off (tbc) dates tbc * Dates subject to FIFA approval