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New Zealand ejected from Oceania Olympic qualifier

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand says it will contest its disqualification from Sunday’s final of the Oceania Olympic qualifying football series for fielding an ineligible player during a semifinal against Vanuatu.

The Oceania Football Confederation disciplinary committee earlier Sunday upheld a protest lodged by the Vanuatu Football Federation that claimed South Africa-born defender Deklan Wynne was not eligible to play in the match.

Fiji will now represent the Oceania region at next year’s Rio de Janiero Olympics after beating Vanuatu 4-3 on penalties in the final, played in conjuction with the Pacific Games in the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby. The teams were locked at 0-0 after extra time.

Vanuatu was promoted into the final after the disciplinary committee ruled New Zealand’s 2-0 semifinal win should not stand and awarded the match to Vanuatu by a margin of 3-0.

However, Fiji’s first-ever participation in an Olympics soccer tournament must now survive New Zealand’s legal challenge. New Zealand had called on the Oceania Football Confederation to postpone Sunday’s final until its challenge could be heard.

In a statement on Sunday, New Zealand Football said it was working with its lawyers to contest the disciplinary committee’s decision which, it said, was made at a hearing “of which New Zealand Football was not aware after being told the matter would be referred to FIFA.”

“While we firmly believe tonight’s match should have been delayed, 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,” New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said.

“We trust that Oceania Football Confederation will change its position and conduct that proper and fair process.”

Wynne represented New Zealand at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup last month and has played at senior level after becoming a naturalized New Zealander.

But Wynne does not yet appear to have met any of the criteria that would allow him to represent New Zealand. Specifically, as he wasn’t born in New Zealand and doesn’t have a New Zealand parent or grandparent, he would have to have lived in New Zealand for five years from the age of 18 to be eligible.

Wynne is 20 and therefore falls well short of the required residential qualification. It was unclear Sunday why his eligibility wasn’t questioned prior to the Under-20 tournament or his two matches for the New Zealand senior team.

New Zealand represented the Oceania confederation at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics after Australia left the region to join the Asian confederation.

The Olympic qualifying tournament in Papua New Guinea is the only avenue for a team from Oceania to qualify for the Olympic Games.

The Oceania Football Confederation issued a statement Sunday saying “in accordance with Article 7 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes, a member of the New Zealand U-23 squad has been deemed ineligible to represent New Zealand.

“In accordance with Article 13 of the FIFA Regulations for the Olympic Football Tournaments, the Committee has found that New Zealand fielded an ineligible player in the match against Vanuatu held on 10 July 2015.

“Therefore, in accordance with Article 73, paragraph 1 of the OFC Disciplinary Code, the Committee has declared that New Zealand has forfeited the match against Vanuatu with a 0-3 result, and therefore Vanuatu proceed to the final match of the OFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament against Fiji.”

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