New Zealand’s semi-final opponents will be determined by the result of a single game after a FIFA ruling to resolve the chaos left by the withdrawal of two teams from Group A at the Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Friday’s pool game between Solomon Islands and Tahiti will be used as a one-game decider with the winner deemed to top Group A and the loser treated as the runners-up.
If necessary, extra time and penalties will be used to separate the sides.
The 2-0 win by Solomon Islands against Cook Islands on the opening day of the tournament will, in effect, be disregarded from any group A calculations.
The Solomon Islands-Tahiti game kicks off at 3am Friday (NZT), meaning New Zealand should know its semi-final opponent before the All Whites start their final pool game, against New Caledonia, three hours later.
That assumes, of course, that New Zealand don’t suffer a calamitous defeat to lose their top spot in Group B.
FIFA’s decision in full
Here’s how the ruling was announced by Oceania Football Confederation:
“Following the decisions taken by the football associations of the Cook Islands and Vanuatu to withdraw from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Oceania Qualifiers due to positive cases of COVID-19 that affected their respective national teams, the Bureau for the FIFA World Cup™ Qualifiers has taken the following decisions in order to determine the winner and runner-up of Group A in a fair and simple manner:
“1. All matches played or scheduled to be played as part of Group A involving the Cook Islands or Vanuatu shall be deemed to have not taken place for the purposes of determining the group standings.
“2. The match between the Solomon Islands and Tahiti scheduled to take place on March 24, 2022 will act as a single play-off match to determine the winner and runner-up of Group A. In accordance with article 20 paragraph 11 of the Regulations for the FIFA World Cup 2022™ Preliminary Competition, if the match is level at the end of normal playing time, extra time shall be played. If the score is still level at the end of extra time, kicks from the penalty mark shall be taken to determine the winner.
“3. The Solomon Islands will go into their match against Tahiti with a clean disciplinary record (as they did not receive any cautions in their match against the Cook Islands, this shall not change the status quo in substance).
“4. For the avoidance of doubt, the match between the Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands, which took place on 17 March 2022 with a 2-0 result in favour of the Solomon Islands, will count with respect to the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, although it will not count with respect to the preliminary competition Group A standings.”
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