Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifiers set for early next year

Oceania's FIFA World Cup regional qualifiers are set to take place early next year.

The Oceania Football Confederation confirmed all matches will take place in Qatar from 14 to 30 March 2022.

The OFC qualifiers will be played in a mini-tournament format featuring eight teams, consisting of a round-robin group stage, semi-finals and the final.

A single qualification match is still to be played between Tonga and the Cook Islands - the two lowest-ranked OFC teams in the FIFA World Ranking - for the right to take part in the preliminary competition mini-tournament, joining Tahiti, Vanuatu and two-time OFC qualifying tournament finalists the Solomon Islandsin Group A.

2016 OFC Nations Cup finalists Papua New Guinea join Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand in Group B.

The winners of the two semi-finals will meet in the final to determine the OFC representative that will face the Concacaf representative in the FIFA intercontinental play-offs in June 2022 for a place in the final competition.

The decision to host the preliminary competition in Qatar came after no OFC Member Association was able to receive approval from their government to host the tournament in their country due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Oceania has been unable to hold national team competitions since 2019. The March tournament presents the first and last opportunity for the preliminary competition to take place.

OFC General Secretary Franck Castillo said it was exciting to confirm the return of international football for Oceania nations, who with the exception of New Zealand, will be playing international opposition for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are thrilled to finally be in a position to hold the OFC qualifiers for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022," he said.

"It is of upmost importance to OFC that we are able to stage this tournament and provide a platform for our Member Associations to return to international matches.

"The region can now look forward to a wonderful tournament which will see nine nations play for the chance to be part of the next World Cup."