In Oceania Olympic qualifying tournament in Papua New Guinea New Zealand fielded an ineligible player in their match against Vanuatu on 10 July 2015. This was brought to the notice of Oceania Football Committee, who declared that New Zealand has forfeited the match against Vanuatu and therefore Vanuatu proceeded to the final. It was a huge blow to the Olympic aspirations of New Zealand Football as they were the best team playing in the tournament. But Fiji had a better luck as they needed to face the 199th FIFA ranked team. The 120-minute final between Fiji and Vanatu was a nerve-wrecking affair and no goals could be scored in the allotted playing time. After the match slipped into the penalty shoot-out, it was Fiji, who emerged as the winner and ensured themselves a place in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
While Fiji celebrated their historic triumph that took them to next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, New Zealand lost out on a technicality. The Oceania Football Confederation upheld Vanatu’s protest that New Zealand defender Deklan Wynne was not eligible to play in the semi-final, which was won by New Zealand 2-0. The committee felt that New Zealand had violated a FIFA regulation related to the residency of a player. The 20-year old Wynne was born in Kapstadt, South Africa but he moved with his parents even when he was a child. An Auckland native, Wynne played for Wanderers SC Under-20 team in the national domestic league since 2013. Wynne holds a New Zealand passport and he made his debut for the senior international team against China in November 2014. The technical reason for Wynne’s ineligibility was cited as he apparently didn’t fulfill the FIFA regulation on residency status. The FIFA statute says; any player not born in a country or without a parent or grandparent from that country should have lived there for five years after the age of 18. At age 20, that was one condition Wynne couldn’t have fulfilled. New Zealand Football is appealing against the ruling but what would come off it is anybody’s guess.
Meanwhile, the decision of final between Fiji and Vanatu was to create a Rio berth for the winner. Fiji is 197th and Vanatu 199th in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking but the intriguing process of Olympic qualifications allowed Fiji to secure the Olympic berth. The match was a scrappy affair with neither side being able to break the deadlock in the 90-minute regulation time. Even after 30 minutes of extra time, the final remained goalless and penalty shoot-out ensued. After the first two penalties were scored, the process of scoring and missing continued until the shoot-out went to sudden death. At this point, even as Vanuatu defender Remy Kalsarap shot wide, Fiji’s Jale Dreloa became a national hero as scored from the next spot-kick.
The victory marked a great moment for Fijian football. More than half the players, who featured in the final against Vanatu had also played in the team for the U-20 World Cup at New Zealand in June 2015. Jale Dreloa was their captain and Fiji defeated Honduras 3-0 in the league stage. They couldn’t reach the knock-out phase but their overall performance was satisfacory. Regardless, they already have the Olympic ticket with them along with Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal while 9 other nations still wait for their chances.