The draw for the XIV Pacific Games was streamed live online from OFC Headquarters yesterday and resulted in some fascinating match-ups in both the men’s and women’s events.
Group A of the men’s tournament brings together New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Tuvalu while Group B features Fiji, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands and Kiribati.
The female event will be just as intriguing with Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and American Samoa being drawn together in Group A, and Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands and Guam meeting in Group B.
Of the two men’s pools, Group A appears to fit the “Group of Death” bill most accurately. New Caledonia are the defending champions after taking the title last time in Samoa in 2007 while Vanuatu and Solomon Islands are both football-mad nations and are regarded as being among the leading national sides in the Pacific.
Guam will be somewhat of an unknown quantity as they are not an OFC member and entered the Pacific Games frame late in the piece while American Samoa and Tuvalu will assume the role of underdogs.
Cook Islands and Kiribati will adopt a similar mantle in Group B but the other three sides will all harbour genuine hopes of progressing past the group stages. The Fiji and Tahiti squads are both packed full of players with international and O-League experience while the Frank Farina-coached Papua New Guinea could be one of the surprises of the tournament.
The former Australian national team coach has returned to his roots by taking charge of the country of his birth and some of his world-class knowledge is sure to rub off on the players.
The Papua New Guinea women’s team will also be among those to watch after winning the past two Games and coming runners-up at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in New Zealand last September. They will be pleased to be on the other side of the draw to Tonga, who are regarded as one of the best non-New Zealand sides within Oceania and have finished second and third in the previous two tournaments.
But Tonga failed to make the semi-finals in their last outing at the Nations Cup and will face a stern examination of their reputation from the likes of Solomon Islands and Cook Islands, who both made the final four last year in Auckland.
New Caledonia did not take part in the Nations Cup but will want to make good use of home advantage while francophone rivals Tahiti will aim to finally break into the top three after finishing fourth in the last two Pacific Games.
American Samoa were also not involved in the Nations Cup and, along with Guam, have therefore not been sighted by their rivals in recent months. They will hope to use this unfamiliarity to spring a few upsets against their higher-ranked opposition.
One side with a major point to prove is 2007 bronze medalists Fiji, who picked up only one point from their three Nations Cup matches and will view a similar showing at New Caledonia 2011 as a massive failure.
The match schedule for the XIV Pacific Games is as follows: