The cancellation of Monday’s Group A games at the Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifiers has left participating nations and their fans in a state of anticipation.
Here’s the status at midday Monday (NZT):
Neither of today’s games went ahead.
Solomon Islands v Vanuatu was officially listed as “cancelled” by organisers after the withdrawal of Vanuatu, unable to field a team due to positive COVID tests.
Cook Islands v Tahiti is considered “postponed” because the Cook Islanders were unable to raise 14 eligible players due to multiple cases of COVID within their camp.
A FIFA/Oceania Football Confederation has to decide what happens to that fixture but it’s likely the Cook Islands team will exit the tournament.
All Whites head coach Danny Hay acknowledged the situation to Stuff football writer Phillip Rollo:
“It’s a concern what is happening on the other side of the draw and ultimately the decision-makers at FIFA and OFC have to come up with something that will be fair for all teams, but that’s for them to decide, we’re just working on our jobs at the moment and controlling what we can control.”
The likelihood is that Friday’s match between Solomon Islands and Tahiti will confirm both as semi-finalists but decide which will play the winner of Group B, and which will face the runners-up.
The All Whites can take control of Group By when they meet Fiji on Tuesday (6am, live on Sky Sports 7).
Given the problems in Group A, the New Zealand camp is being particularly cautious with their players’ health and the Kiwi contingent are undergoing daily Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) and leaving their hotel only for training sessions and games.
Said Hay: “We’re trying to take every precaution that we can, but that’s not to say the unthinkable won’t happen. It’s still very much a risk. We’ve just got to do what we can to negate that creeping its way in.”
OFC organisers called a mandatory meeting of team representatives, including doctors, to lay down protocols for managing health risks, particularly till after Tuesday’s games.
According to a Fiji news report, squads have been asked to limit movement and contact with people from outside their groups.
Hay has more selection options
All Whites fans await the announcement of the team to play Fiji.
Chris Wood, Elijah Just, Marko Stamenic, Callum McCowatt, Nando Pijnaker and Tim Payne have all arrived in Doha, taking part in Sunday’s training session, after being unavailable for the tournament opener against Papua New Guinea.
It gives Hay the option of resting players, or using them tactically off the bench, for Tuesday’s game.
Main photo: Danny Hay … taking every precaution. Photo: Phototek.
Fiji players get widespread support
Meanwhile, Fiji are preparing for the game that could turn them into legends in their home country.
The Fiji Times reports the squad have been receiving messages of support from all over the world and from high profile Fijians such as former national captain Esala Masi, former Fiji 7s coach Ben Ryan, former national head coach Christophe Gamel and rugby star Marika Koroibete.
The newspaper says captain Roy Krishna (34) and head coach Flemming Serritslev stirred up the players at a squad lunch.
The coach asked: “Do you want to go to heaven?”
Coach: “Are you ready to die for your country?”
All Whites hot favourites
New Zealand’s TAB lists the All Whites as $1.12 favourites for the win against Fiji.
The Bula Boys are $18 longshots to win while the draw is rated an $8 chance.
Mathematically, the implied probability of these odds suggest New Zealand has a 95% chance of winning the game.
Papua New Guinea have the edge in the other game, with the TAB making them $2.40 favourites.
New Caledonia are paying $2.75 to win and the draw offers $3.40.
(Times/day are NZT)
3am: New Caledonia v Papua New Guinea
6am: New Zealand v Fiji