The traditional welcome that awaits the players from this year's hosts the Solomon Islands.

by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

Before the Euro 2012 tournament kicks off there is another football tournament being held on the other side of the world, the OFC Nations Cup.  The competition has been held at irregular intervals since its first inception in 1973, and this will be the ninth time the cup has been competed for. The first winners back in 1973 were the hosts New Zealand. Since then the tournament has always been won by the two giants of the region, New Zealand and Australia. Since Australia left the OFC to join the Asian federation in 2006 the reality is that New Zealand are expected to dominate the competition, and they are hot favourites to win this year’s tournament. They come into the tournament in good form following two fine results, a 2-2 draw with El Salvador, and a 1-0 win over Honduras. Both these sides were placed higher in the FIFA rankings than any side in the OFC adding to the belief that New Zealand, with their squad consisting mainly of professionals, some who ply their trade at Premiership clubs, will win the tournament easily.

So who are the challengers to New Zealand, and can anyone realistically beat them?    There are eight teams divided into two groups playing in the tournament, which also doubles as the second round of the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when the four semi-finalists will play each other later in the year to decide who will go on to the next round.  All the games will be held at one venue in the Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, the capital of the host country the Solomon Islands.

In Group A, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tahiti and Vanuatu will all be fancying their chances of finishing in the top two and make the semi-finals and the next round of world cup qualifiers.  New Caledonia, will be highly fancied having won gold when they hosted the Pacific Games last year, as will Tahiti who won bronze at the Games. The Tahiti team draws heavily from the club side Tefana who reached the OFC Champions League (or the O-League) final this year. Vanuata, have a young side that reflects the recent implementation of a FIFA sponsored coaching programme, and are considered an exciting team to watch.  The outsiders of the group, Samoa had to go through a qualifying tournament to reach the finals where they comfortably finished ahead of Tonga, American Samoa, and Cook Islands.

In Group B, New Zealand face hosts Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.  The Solomon Islands, won the silver medal at the last Pacific Games, and have traditionally been one of the stronger sides in the region outside of New Zealand and Australia.  Football is followed keenly here, they have a fanatical support, and this could make them difficult to beat. Fiji beat New Zealand 2-0 in a world cup qualifier in 2008 but never played another game until the 2011 Pacific Games where they finished fourth, losing after extra time to the Solomon Islands in the semi-finals, then to Tahiti in the play-off for third place.  Papua New Guinea are relative unknowns having only played three games outside of the Pacific Games since 2007. However there is some suggestion that they may be an emerging force. Club side Hekari United, who won the O-League in 2010, the first club outside of New Zealand to do so, supply 8 players to the national squad, which is now managed by Australian legend Frank Farina, who took the Socceroos to two world cup finals.

Its hard to see who can beat New Zealand, but football has a way of throwing up the occasional surprise, and away from the big names and big money of the European Nations Cup, the minnows of the Oceania nations will be feeling exactly the same emotions as their more illustrious counterparts as they struggle to be the best of their region.

The OFC Nations Cup kicks off on Friday 1 June with Samoa taking on Tahiti at 12pm local time, and anyone interested can view the games live via

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