Today we take a look at Oceania, FIFA’s smallest – and least competitive – confederation. It is not surprising that the competition has been utterly dominated by Australia and New Zealand. It has also been marked by some very long periods of inactivity. The first Oceania match was on 17 June 1922, and was between the two big boys. New Zealand won 3-1. Australia took the title in 1923, but New Zealand won it back days later. They then kept the title, without defending it, for ten years. Australia took it in 1933 and, barring a two-week return to New Zealand in 1954, it stayed in Australia until 1977!
In its first 55 years, the unofficial Oceanian championship had not even been contested by a nation other than Oz or NZ. The first to do so was Fiji in 1977, and they won at their first attempt, beating Australia. They didn’t play for over two years after that, but when they did, they promptly lost to New Zealand. The All Whites took the title into the 1980 OFC Nations Cup (this was the second edition of that competition – the first, in 1973, went ahead without unofficial champions Australia, who didn’t enter).
New Zealand shockingly lost their opening game to Tahiti, who won twice more to progress to the final. There, they lost to Australia. However, that game is not viewed as a full A-international by FIFA (or Australia), ostensibly because Australia didn’t field an A-team. However, Australia’s earlier group game against Papua New Guinea is a full international; you work that one out! What it meant was that at the end of the 1980 OFC Nations Cup, Tahiti were still unofficial champions. To fully underline the farce of this competition, Tahiti duly went into international hibernation for eleven years!
On their return in 1991, Tahiti lost to Fiji. Fiji lost to New Zealand the following year, and Australia became champions again in 1993. They then defended the title 15 times in a row – the Oceania record – before losing to New Zealand. The title then swapped between New Zealand (1998-2000 and 2002-04) and Australia (2000-02 and 2004-05).
Then, on New Years’ Day 2006, Australia formally defected to Asia’s Football Confederation. This left the Oceania title vacant. The first Oceanian match thereafter was not until 13 July 2007, when the Solomon Islands beat Papua New Guinea. New Caledonia took the title later that year, and New Zealand took it back in September 2008. Two months later, an under-strength New Zealand line-up lost 2-0 to Fiji. Typically, Fiji haven’t played since. It’s almost as if they don’t actually want to risk losing their title…
Follow the progress of the unofficial continental championships over at the UFWC Forum.
Read more continental UFWC features.