New Zealand celebrate winning the last OFC U-17 Championship
The Oceania qualifiers will take place from January 8 to 19 and the winner will book themselves a berth in Mexico.
The tournament was scheduled to be held at Trust Stadium’s Douglas Field in Henderson but has now been moved to Albany’s North Harbour Stadium, the venue of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2010 and several other recent OFC tournaments.
New Zealand swept all before them at the Women’s Nations Cup and their youthful male counterparts will be hoping to do likewise at the same ground in January.
The Young All Whites are the defending champions and coach Steve Cain has named a strong, attack-minded squad which he hopes will justify his side’s tag as favourites.
The squad is largely made of up players who have starred for ASB Youth League sides this season while several have even featured in ASB Premiership senior squads. Youth League champions Waitakere United lead the way with four players, including captain Luke Adams and striker Tim Payne, who made his national league debut for Auckland City last season at the tender age of 16.
Fellow Waitakere youngster Jordan Vale could be another to watch. The talented midfielder is the son of former national women’s team goalkeeper Yvonne Vale and trialed for the U-15 side of English Premier League club Aston Villa as a 14-year-old.
“We’ve got some very talented and pacey players in this squad,” Cain says. “We hope to go at teams and we know we’ll be up against some pretty solid and well-organised opponents. We’re looking to impose our game on them.”
The 13th edition of the tournament is set to be the most competitive yet and New Zealand are expected to face tough challenges from the likes of Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Academies for players aged between 13 and 16 have been established in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, and many of those young stars have now come through the ranks and will represent their countries in Auckland.
The Vanuatu players have plenty of experience under their belts after being involved in the previous OFC U-17 Championship in 2009. An U-15 side was sent to that event and coach Wilson August hopes the lessons learned then will hold his charges in good stead.
August has named star midfielder Abraham Roquara as his captain and, if the 16-year-old’s footballing genes are anything to go by, he will be one to keep an eye on. The young skipper’s older brother Nemani is in the Vanuatu U-20 set up while his father Simeon is a former national team player who now works for the government’s Youth and Sport Department in Port Vila.
Fiji coach Hussain Sahib also has plenty of talent at his disposal and believes his team are in good spirits.
“The boys have gelled well,” he says. “The bonding is there and they are well aware of what needs to be done.”
The Fijians will be keen to follow in the footsteps of their 1999 and 2007 predecessors, who finished as runners-up and third respectively.
The Solomon Islands squad, known in the football-mad nation as the Katukatus, consists mainly of players who won the TVL International tournament for their country in Vanuatu early this year but a number of young futsal stars have also made the cut.
Coach Christopher Asipara is putting a big emphasis on defence as he feels getting that part of the game right will be a key component to success.
“I want my players to be able to defend from anywhere on the field as soon as we lose the ball,” he says. “With this ability we can set up counter attacks against our opponents.”
The French Polynesian pair of Tahiti and New Caledonia will also pose a threat after finishing second and third respectively two years ago. The other sides involved in the ten-team tournament are American Samoa and Cook Islands.
The latter will be aiming to repeat the efforts of the last side from the nation to be involved in an OFC tournament. The Cook Islands put in a fine showing at the Women’s Nations Cup to earn a third-place finish, the country’s first ever medal at an international tournament.