Vanuatu World Cup qualifer put off for positive COVID tests

The match between Tahiti and Vanuatu on the opening day of delayed Oceania World Cup qualifying on Thursday was postponed because of positive COVID-19 tests conducted at Vanuatu’s team hotel in Doha, Qatar.

“Vanuatu would not have had enough players to field a team,” the Oceania Football Confederation said in a statement. “Rapid antigen testing conducted on March 17 … revealed positive cases of COVID-19 in a vast majority of the Vanuatu squad.”

Oceania was the last region to start qualifying, beginning just two weeks before the draw on April 1.

New Zealand is a heavy favorite to win the Oceania tournament and advance to a one-game playoff in June against the fourth-place nation from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

In the first game of what had been a scheduled Group A doubleheader, Solomon Islands defeated Cook Islands 2-0 on goals by Atkin Kaua in the 20th minute and Alwin Hou in the first minute of first-half stoppage time.

Group B opens Friday with New Zealand playing Papua New Guinea, and Fiji meeting New Caledonia.

The top two teams in each group advance to the semfinals on March 27, and the winners meet three days later in the Oceania final.

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