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Oceania's Future
The backing of FIFA has given the Oceania Football Confederation the opportunity to tackle a number of issues which, without the support of the world body, would simply not have been feasible.

Obviously, the Charles J. Dempsey Academy is a key development in the future plans of the OFC, both in its objective to secure direct qualification to future World Cup Finals, and in terms of moving into the 21st century. But it isn't the only one.

Already a marketing partnership has been signed with the Oceania Sport Group, which resulted in a new logo being defined for the confederation, a quarterly magazine - 'The Wave', and an OFC Media Guide coming to pass in the first year following the partnership's commencement in 1997.

Neither of the latter publications were continued long-term, instead being overtaken by technology - television coverage of 'the beautiful game' now features prominently in the OFC's media portfolio, along with an enhanced website and copious other instant options which have tended to render the printed word obsolete.

A special taskforce was set up with the objective of focusing on the special needs of the island countries, which make up ten of the eleven members of Oceania. To assist in this process, all OFC members are now fully computerised, with email addresses and at least one full-time employee working for their national association. Also, each country now boasts its own Technical Director of Coaching.

Long-term, each country should have an academy which works in closely with the Charles Dempsey Academy to ensure that programmes are in place for young players, who will also benefit from age-group competitions conducted at these academies. Meanwhile, regular training will be available for referees, coaches, administrators and sports medicine practitioners.

On the field, the relaunching of the Oceania Nations Cup in 1996, and its alignment with the championships held by FIFA's five other confederations, has allowed Oceania to play a full part in, and stand to benefit from, FIFA's Confederations Cup tournament.

Witness Australia's second placing in the inaugural tournament in Saudi Arabia, an effort which earned Soccer Australia's coffers well over $US 1m, once the Socceroos' progress to the final had been taken into account.

Until the advent of the Confederations Cup, the member nations of the Oceania Football Confederation were not privy to the opportunity to gain direct qualification to a tournament featuring the footballing world's elite.

Now there are just two FIFA Finals tournaments to which the Oceania champions do not enjoy direct qualification. The ongoing situation re direct access to both the World Cup Finals and the FIFA Club World Cup Finals - currently Oceania's champion has to play off against the host nation's champions for the right to contest the Finals proper - is one of the obstacles facing the Oceania Football Confederation in the 21st Century.

However, one of the biggest hurdles to progress in the region was removed at the end of 2005, when Australia, for so long the dominant force in Oceania football, switched to the Asian confederation, a move which is proving beneficial for all parties.

New Zealand and the island nations now have the opportunity to compete on the ultimate stages in several FIFA senior and age-grade World Cup competitions, an opportunity which New Zealand has eagerly grasped, qualifying for all but one of FIFA's Finals during the 2010 World Cup cycle, and performing creditably at most of the events, particularly in the women's competitions.

Tahiti reached a FIFA Finals for the first time in their history when qualifying for the U-20 event in 2009, but their inexperience on the world stage was reflected in the scorelines inflicted upon them, in much the same manner New Zealand suffered when they reached the U-17 World Cup Finals at Australia's expense a decade earlier.

A year on, and Papua New Guinea's champion club, Hekari United, became the first club from outside New Zealand and Australia to win the OFC Champions League, scoring a deserved aggregate victory over Waitakere United to earn the $US 500,000 prize money and endeavour to follow in the impressive footsteps of Auckland City at the 2009 Finals in Abu Dhabi, where they finished fifth, beating two professional teams along the way.

The Oceania confederation will, of course, be required to host their fair share of these finals, and realistically, only one nation in the confederation is capable of doing so, particularly from logistical and infrastructure viewpoints.

To that end, New Zealand successfully hosted the inaugural Under-17 Women's World Cup Finals in 2008. Other possible FIFA Finals which Oceania's foremost nation could realistically host in the future include the Club World Cup Finals, and the bi-annual Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup Finals for both genders.

The ultimate goal for the OFC, one which will be truly indicative of Oceania's growth as a Confederation, will be to see its representatives consistently progressing beyond the group stages at FIFA Finals.

New Zealand's unbeaten efforts at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals were a tremendous fillip for the region, with draws against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay earning the All Whites the rare feat of exiting the World Cup Finals without being beaten.

They were unable to repeat the feat four years later, however, with Mexico prevailing 9-3 on aggregate in the two-legged play-off against the CONCACAF contenders - Bahrain, from the Asian Confederation, had provided the opposition in late 2009, with the All Whites edging them 1-0 on aggregate.

The 2014 World Cup qualification process also served as the OFC Nations Cup campaign, and Tahiti sprung a major surprise by winning the trophy, thus qualifying for the 2013 Confederations Cup Finals, where they copped hidings at the hands of Nigeria, Spain - 10-0! - and Uruguay.

While New Zealand qualified for and were competitive at the 2012 Olympic Games, where they drew with Egypt, the OlyWhites' disqualification from the 2016 qualifying tournament, for fielding an ineligible player, opened the way for Fiji to book their place at Rio 2016.

The Youth All Whites won both the 2011 and 2013 qualifying tournaments for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Finals, which they hosted in 2015, with Fiji joining them in representing Oceania at that event.

New Zealand did well in the 2011 Finals, drawing two of their group matches and losing 1-0 to Portugal in the third, while they lost all thre games in 2013.

But on home turf two years later, they progressed to the last sixteen in the competition, Portugal again their nemesis after an opening game draw with Ukraine was followed by a 5-1 thrashing of Myanmar.

Fiji's 3-0 win over Honduras in group play ranks as their greatest ever result on the world stage, coming just days after they copped an 8-1 hiding from Germany.

At U-17 level, New Zealand's Junior All Whites have continued their dominance of Oceania at that level by winning every tournament since Australia left the Confederation, although they required penalties to progress past Tahiti in 2015.

At the FIFA U-17 World Cup Finals, however, they have enjoyed mixed fortunes, advancing to the last sixteen in both 2011 - courtesy a 4-1 rout of Uzbekistan - and 2015, when a 2-1 win over Paraguay set up a knockout round encounter with Brazil, who only progressed past New Zealand thanks to a last-minute penalty.

At all three Finals, however, Oceania's representatives have copped some hidings. Japan trounced New Zealand 6-0 in 2011, Uruguay were 7-0 victors in 2013, and in 2015, it was France who hit the Kiwis for six, although this time NZ did get one on the board.

It's at the FIFA Club World Cup Finals and in the women's game where Oceania has been best served in recent years. Since Hekari's shock triumph in 2010, Auckland City has dominated the OFC Champions League, winning the title five years running.

They have returned home from the FIFA Club World Cup Finals on four occasions having played just the one match, losing to the host club's champions in the play-off to enter the Finals proper.

But in 2014, the lone amateur club at the Finals arrived at the event having edged Vanuatu's Amicale in the final of the inaugural OFC President's Cup tournament. They then saw off Morrocan champions Moghreb Tetouan on penalties before ousting Algeria's ES Setif 1-0 to book a semi-final against Argentina's San Lorenzo.

City took their much-vaunted opponents to extra-time before bowing out 2-1, a result which earned them a third place play-off against Mexico's Cruz Azul. Incredibly, Ramon Tribulietx's team again prevailed on penalties to finish third, with captain Ivan Vicelich named as winner of the Bronze Ball at the post-Final awards ceremony.

As Auckland City has dominated men's club football in Oceania, so New Zealand's female footballers have dominated the women's game. The Football Ferns made light work of qualifying for the 2011 and 2015 FIFA Club World Cup Finals, and the 2012 Olympic Games, and at all three showpiece events have performed highly creditably.

Narrows defeats to Japan and England in 2011 were followed by a last-gasp draw with Mexico, while four years later, an odd-goal loss to Holland preceded draws with hosts Canada and China.

While those results meant the Football Ferns narrowly failed to progress to the knockout rounds, it was a different kettle of fish at London 2012, where Tony Readings' charges advanced to the quarter-finals after downing Cameroon 3-1 to book a clash with eventual gold medal winners the USA.

At age-grade level, New Zealand's dominance has seen them win almost every match against their Oceania rivals by double figures. And while they've yet to record a victory at the U-17 Finals since beating Colombia 3-1 in Wellington in the inaugural event in 2008, they are making progress at U-20 level.

In 2012, the Junior Ferns only just failed to progress to the knockout phase on goal difference, having topped Switzerland 2-1 before drawing 2-2 with Japan. Two years later, wins over Paraguay and Costa Rica earned them a quarter-final with Nigeria, who ended the Junior Ferns' hopes of advancing further by a 4-1 scoreline.

The 2016 Finals will be hosted by Papua New Guinea, with New Zealand among the fifteen teams to have qualified for the event, which will take place in November.

The OFC Nations Cup, which takes place in Port Moresby six months earlier, will serve as a trial run for that event, while Oceania's representatives will have to get past South American opposition if they harbour hopes of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals.

Oceania Soccer