By Shane Saroya – EM TV Sport, Port Moresby
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be staged in Russia, and will feature 32 teams from around the world, including those successful from the pool of Oceania’s 11 contenders.
For the Oceania region, the Road to Russia gets underway on August 31, when the first matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and Oceania Qualifying Stage One tournament kicks off in Tonga.
American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and hosts Tonga, being the four countries that will contest stage one, with the winner progressing to stage two where they will join the seven remaining Oceania member associations.
It will be a round-robin competition; eight teams have been drawn into groups of four teams each, who will compete for the OFC Nations Cup, a one-off tournament in a yet-to-be-determined location in 2016.
Papua New Guinea will be in Group A with the 2012 OFC Nations Cup champions Tahiti and runner’s up New Caledonia.
Group B will feature the regional heavyweights New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.
From here, the three teams from each pool will advance through to stage three where the six teams will be placed into two groups of three teams.
The sides will compete in a round-robin, home-and-away battle to top their group. The two group winners will advance to a single home-and-away series.
The regional winner earns the right to face the fifth-placed South American side in the two-legged Intercontinental Play-off in November 2017 for a place at Russia 2018.