New Zealand's men qualified for the Olympics but have not reached the FIFA World Cup since 2010 © Getty Images

The much-delayed Oceania phase of the FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament is about to start in Qatar.

Such have been travel restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19 precautions that many of the Cook Islands players are set to meet the coach, Englishman Alan Taylor, only a few hours before their opening match against the Solomon Islands.

"It is understood we are the unranked team and that it is a big challenge no matter who we play," Taylor said.

"I haven’t got to travel and see most of my players due to COVID-19, so I am relying on the reports I am getting back from people."

More than half the squad are uncapped.

Eight members of the squad have travelled from New Zealand along with four from Australia.

The Solomon Islands, ranked 142nd in the world, had played three warm-up matches in Australia, beating Queensland club side Lions 4-2 in their final outing before heading to the Gulf.

Felipe Vega-Arango, has named a squad that includes Micah Lea'alafa, Raphael Le'ai and Alvin Hou, all of whom played in the 2021 Futsal World Cup. 

In the other Group A match, Vanuatu face Tahiti.

Vanuatu are 164th in the world but feature Mitch Cooper who plays in the Australian National Premier League for Hume City in Victoria.

"When I saw the draw come out last year while we were locked down in a pandemic, these games were something I was looking forward to," Cooper said.

Group B features New Zealand, 111th in the FIFA rankings, who first qualified for the World Cup 40 years ago but reached the Olympic quarter-finals in Tokyo last August before going down to Japan on penalties. 

"Over the past year, we have shown people what we are capable of as a team," coach Danny Hay said.

Hay has named Newcastle’s Chris Wood in his squad but will not be available for the opening match against Papua New Guinea, now listed as 165th in the FIFA rankings.

They are set to include Tommy Semmy, a striker with Newcastle Jets in Australia’s A League.

Midfielder Gimala Essacu is the other overseas-based player in the squad.

He is currently at Western Illinois University in the United States.

"We are not afraid of New Zealand," Papua New Guinea coach Marcos Gusmao said. 

"I am 100 per cent sure the team will do something positive in Qatar.

"The squad has shown amazing resilience and their ability to absorb what is being taught augurs well for their success."

Fiji, 162nd in the FIFA rankings, recorded a 3-0 friendly victory against Vanuatu thanks to a hat-trick from Sairusi Nalaubu last week.

They face New Caledonia, currently up to 153rd in the FIFA standings. 

The winner and runner-up from each group qualify for semi-final matches, with the two winners advancing to a zonal final match. 

The winners of the Oceania competition will face a team from the Central American (CONCACAF) region for a berth at the finals.