WELLINGTON • Fiji's national under-23 men's football team advanced to next year's Rio Olympics after a 4-3 victory on penalties over Vanuatu following New Zealand's expulsion from the final for fielding an ineligible player.
The final had ended 0-0 after extra time. Fiji are the first country other than Australia or New Zealand to represent Oceania at the Olympic football tournament, though their qualification was mired in controversy.
Kiwi star defender Deklan Wynne, 20, was deemed ineligible just hours before the final against the Fijians by an Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) disciplinary committee, a decision that angered the New Zealand Football Association (NZF), which felt the game should have been postponed.
South African-born Wynne was deemed not to have met residency criteria to represent New Zealand.
NZF chief executive Andy Martin said in a statement that it had been blindsided by the outcome, having been told the case would be referred to world governing body Fifa for a decision.
He added that the NZF was working with its lawyers to appeal against the decision: "We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that any final decision is only reached after a proper and fair process has been carried out.
"We trust that OFC will change its position and conduct that proper and fair process."
Wynne, a full New Zealand international who also played at the Under-20 World Cup on home soil earlier this year, helped his side defeat Vanuatu 2-0 in the semi-finals of the ongoing Pacific Games, which double up as the OFC's Olympic qualifying tournament.
Vanuatu then lodged a protest with the OFC, which found Wynne to be ineligible and awarded Vanuatu a 3-0 win instead.
Article 7 of the Fifa statutes relate to a player acquiring a new nationality. Under the article, either the player, his parent or grandparent, needs to be born in the country they wish to represent.
If they are ineligible under the first three criteria, they can represent the country if they have lived there for five years continuously since the age of 18, making the 20-year-old Wynne too young to qualify under that clause.
Such a clause, however, would restrict many age-group players - particularly those wanting to play in the U-23 Olympic tournaments - from representing a country they were not born in or had any family ties to. REUTERS