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Cook Islands withdraw from FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Wednesday 23 March 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Pacific Islands, Regional

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Cook Islands withdraw from FIFA World Cup qualifiers
The Cook Islands stand for the national anthem prior to their match against Solomon Islands. Photo: OFC Media

The Cook Islands have become the second team to withdraw from the FIFA World Cup Oceania Qualifiers, after the bulk of their squad tested positive for Covid-19.

With Vanuatu already out of the tournament in Qatar, Thursday's clash between Solomon Islands and Tahiti in Doha will now act as a single play-off match to determine the winner and runner-up of Group A, with both teams already assured of a spot in the semi-finals.

If the match is level at the end of 90 minutes, extra time will be played followed by penalties if required.

Solomon Islands beat the Cook Islands 2-0 in the opening match of the tournament last week but FIFA has confirmed that all matches involving the Cook Islands or Vanuatu will count towards the FIFA World Ranking but not the group standings.

Tahiti have been focused on training after their first two World Cup qualifying matches were cancelled.
Tahiti have been focused on training after their first two World Cup qualifying matches were cancelled. Photo: OFC Media

Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea only need a draw in their final match in Group B to join New Zealand in the semi-finals.

The Kapuls produced a strong defensive effort to beat New Caledonia 1-0 on Monday to bounce back from an opening defeat against the All Whites, who thrashed Fiji 4-0.

While a point is enough for PNG to progress to the knockout stage, assistant coach Bob Morris said they still want to win the clash with the Bula Boys on Thursday night Qatar time.

"We came here positive and we will repeat the same (type of) performance as we played New Zealand and then against New Caledonia, so the guys are really confident. We are confident."

Fiji were outclassed 4-0 by New Zealand in Doha.
Fiji were outclassed 4-0 by New Zealand in Doha. Photo: Tom Kirkwood / www.photosport.nz

Because of an inferior goal difference, Fiji need to beat their Melanesian rivals. Coach Flemming Serritslev said they have no choice but to move on from the match against New Zealand and focus all their energy on PNG.

"It's not necessary to waste a lot of time feeling sorry. It's much more important for us to keep our heads high and prepare well for our final game against PNG. We knew that if we lost 2-0 or more we would then have to win the final game and that's what we need to do."

The All Whites top Group B following back-to-back wins and are expected to rest a host of front-line players for their final round-robin match against New Caledonia.