Big changes in little Oceania
I just returned today from two weeks in the Solomon Islands for the Oceania Nation's Cup, which I really enjoyed.
As you may know, Tahiti defeated New Caledonia in the Final, 1-0. The result was a shock and a surprise to many - including my old friend, Ricki Herbert, coach of the All Whites, who were widely tipped to take out the tournament without any trouble.
What was really good about the result is the fact that it did go against expectations. Having not really watched much Oceania football since Australia left the OFC in 2005, it was good to see how much the smaller Oceania countries have improved. I think Australia leaving Oceania was the catalyst in part, as it gave the smaller nations more hope and ambition to take football further. In this period also, the whole set-up in Oceania is much more professional than it was seven years ago with more money in the OFC via FIFA, better quality coaching, and the O-League. In case you're not aware, the O-League is the relatively new club competition within Oceania along similar lines to the Asian Champions League.
Our PNG team, known as the Kundus locally, did very well. Ranked 193rd in the world by FIFA, we pushed New Zealand all the way to lose narrowly 2-1, we lost to the home side Solomon Islands 1-0, and we had a draw with Fiji 1-1 - which was cause for a celebration for us as we had never previously not lost at this level and Fiji is ranked 32 places above us.
It's very humbling to coach the PNG team. There are no big names, no high expectations, they are all truly good men, they are very athletic and they just want to learn every day and improve themselves. They play football for the love of it which, in turn, helps remind me of why I, and in fact all of us, played in the first place.
For all of FIFA's faults, they do some things very well and I must congratulate them on the funds they have put in to Oceania to help develop the sport in their smallest region. In PNG's case, the PNG Government has also been a big supporter of the game, not just at this level but also in trying to improve grassroots football.
Oceania may be a minnow in world football - but world football wouldn't be what it is today without the entire world being part of it, and it's great to see the big changes that have taken place over seven years.
It's also good to be home in Brisbane in time to see our beloved Socceroos meet Japan. It's a match-up that has developed into one of the great rivalries, starting way back in 1956 when the two teams met at the Olympic Games in Melbourne. See you there!
Until next time!
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Note from Frank
It's a game of opinions and I've always thought everyone's entitled to theirs.