The National – Wednesday, June 22, 2011
By HENRY MORABANG
PNG Football Association acting president John Kapi Natto has welcomed the Oceania Football Confederation’s decision to split the two New Zealand clubs in separate qualifying groups starting from 2011-12 seasons.
The change to the format of the O-League was agreed to during an OFC executive meeting held in Auckland, New Zealand on May 12.
Kapi Natto, who is also the chairman of the elite competition, the National Soccer League (NSL) said the change would make the O-League competition tougher and make the island teams work harder.
It would mean that one New Zealand team will be pooled against the champion club of PNG, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu while the other will play against Fiji, Tahiti and New Caledonia.
Fiji, currently in the same pool as PNG the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu will shift making way for one of the New Zealand sides.
Kapi Natto said nothing was impossible and if Hekari United could beat them last year, there was no reason other island countries could do the same.
Kapi Natto said OFC had rubber-stamped changes to the O-League which would see the two New Zealand clubs placed in separate qualifying groups next season.
For the first time the top two New Zealand clubs – Waitakere United and Auckland City next season, as the two qualifiers from this year’s national league – will not be forced to play in the same O-League group.
It means there was now the real possibility they would meet in the two-legged final for a spot in the Club World Cup.
One club only would be drawn with the club champions of Fiji, New Caledonia and Tahiti while the other will compete in the second group with the champions of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and PNG.
No preliminary tournament for the 2011-12 O-League will be played. Instead, the champion teams from American Samoa, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tonga will take part in a pilot stand-alone tournament.
In future, it will likely become a preliminary tournament, with the winner qualifying to play off for a place in the O-League.
It was also agreed at the meeting that there would be no change to the World Cup qualification process, meaning the All Whites will play off with the three top-placed teams from this year’s Pacific Games to find Oceania’s representative.
A proposal to revive the OFC Nations Cup next year, which involved the All Whites and five of the Pacific Island nations, was deferred to 2015.
Instead, a Pacific Cup, involving the top five teams from the 2011 Pacific Games, and possibly the New Zealand Olympic team, will be held in February next year.