No matter which side prevails when New Zealand faces Papua New Guinea in Saturday's OFC Nations Cup final, a Wisconsin college soccer player will celebrate a regional championship – and his team's spot in a major international tournament.
UW's Sam Brotherton and New Zealand will face Maranatha Baptist's Wira Wama and host Papua New Guinea in the final Saturday in Port Moresby; kickoff is set for 1 a.m. Central time. Live stream
In addition to the Oceania Football Confederation title, the winner qualifies for next summer's FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia – Germany, Chile, Mexico, Australia and the host country have qualified for the event, and will be joined by the winners of this year's UEFA European Championships and the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Brotherton, who recently finished his freshman year at UW, played all 90 minutes as the All Whites got past New Caledonia 1-0 in a semifinal Wednesday.
The 19-year-old has started all four matches at the event, logging the full 90 in all but one game, as New Zealand has outscored foes 10-1. In the past two matches, a 1-0 win Saturday over the Solomon Islands to close Group B play and Wednesday's victory, he played on the left side of a three-man backline in a 3-2-3-2 formation.
Wama, 26, has 33 goals and 12 assists in 54 appearances (all starts) for NCAA Division III Maranatha Baptist over the past three seasons, and earned National Christian College Athletic Association Division II All-American honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America each year. He also was a regular for the Madison 56ers in the National Premier Soccer League.
He took time off from his studies at the school in Watertown to return home, where he's been playing with semipro club Hekari United FC in the PNG National Soccer League.
Wama, who played every minute of Hekari United's three games in the OFC Champions League in April, started Papua New Guinea's 1-1 tie against New Caledonia on May 29 and their 2-2 draw against Tahiti on June 1 at the Nations Cup but hasn't featured in the past two matches.
Group play at the Nations Cup doubled as the second round of OFC qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia; New Zealand and Papua New Guinea advanced to the third round along with New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.