With three sides, New Caledonia, Malaysia and New Zealand, still in the running for the title, tonight’s final two encounters at Arene du Sud in Paita promise plenty of action and excitement.
The evening gets underway with New Zealand taking on the well-rested Tahitians – a must win for the Futsal Whites if they want to take a slice of history ahead of next year’s FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifiers.
Having surged ahead of the pack with comprehensive wins over Malaysia and Vanuatu, the Kiwis grasp on the trophy was loosened by the hosts New Caledonia who were clearly bolstered by the home crowd support as they came from behind to claim a 2-1 victory.
With assistant coach Felipe di Marchi Bernardi taking the reins in the absence of head coach Scott Gilligan, New Zealand will be giving their all to beat their foes Tahiti, but will be without the services of Kareem Osman, who will be serving out a suspension after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament.
The presence of captain Marvin Eakins will once again steer the side’s defence while Jan Fischer will be looking to add another to his tally as he tries to chase down the Golden Boot.
After the lows of a defeat, di March Bernardi is keen to see his charges round out the tournament on a high, with a victory over Tahiti.
“That’s what we are here for,” he says. “We’re always believing in the team, we’re always behind the team so we’re going to have a chance to talk to the players and just cast an eye over what didn’t work last night.”
But Tahiti won’t be giving in easy. While their claims on the title were lost long ago, the side are building for the future and tonight’s match is yet another occasion to test up-and-comers against one of the region’s leading teams.
Coach Heitapu Hunter was pleased with the performance of 17-year-old Tehaumanarii Bennett, who made several goal stopping saves against in the 5-2 loss against Malaysia, and he’ll be expecting more of the same.
“If we play as we did in the second half against Malaysia, I think that we will have a good match,” Hunter says. “But, it’s in the minds of the players and how they can keep their own morale and standards up.”
Hunter knows that New Zealand will be tough, and expects them to be strong at the back.
“I think that New Zealand plays a defensive game with strong counter attacks. I think that we need to be really careful of that. But we’re confident, as I said we had a really good second half and that’s left us confident.”
Having led the team with aplomb on attack and defence, Smith Tino will again be crucial to the Tahiti’s chances with his killer instinct in front of goal putting him in the running for the Golden Boot – and his overall performance on court has surely put him in good stead for the Golden Ball as well.
Rounding out the evening, and the competition, is Malaysia and New Caledonia’s encounter – one few would have expected to be crucial to determining the champions before the first match kicked-off on Tuesday.
After a whitewash at the 2013 edition, New Caledonia have certainly caused a few surprises with their results at home. It’s the first time the team has played any international futsal matches here and they certainly appear to be a side that thrives on home support.
Currently leading the standings by just one point courtesy of their 2-1 victory over New Zealand, coach William Bret knows Malaysia poses a major threat to his team’s title hopes.
“We need to defend well if we have any hope of beating Malaysia. They score a lot of goals so we need to be strong in defence” he says.
“They’re a side that likes to play and needs room to play so we have to be aware of that and try and exploit it to our advantage.”
For Bret the leadership and general technical qualities of captain Ivann Pourouoro will play a key role in their game. The transitioning speed of Pourouoro as well as their leading scorer Eric Saihulawa, Ivannoe Bamy and Anderson Paulin are bound to be just as key to New Caledonia’s ability to take advantage of any mistakes the Asian side might make.
For Malaysia the path has been rocky since they were beaten 5-1 by New Zealand in their opening game, but having slowly improved as the tournament has progressed, the side is confident of their chances against the hosts.
“Today’s game is very, very important for my team,” says assistant coach Addie Azwan Zainal
“I think my players are ready for the game. They came here to enjoy New Caledonia and I think we will see a good game against the hosts.”
One player who could make the difference for Malaysia is the tournament’s current leading goal scorer Shamsul Zamri who is the author of four goals so far. His ability to get all over the pitch – from blocking, to assisting goals, to scoring his own – is impressive and his high work rate has been essential in getting the AFC to its current position. If Zamri can continue to combine with players like Qaiser Kadir, Ridzwan Bakri and Nizam Ali, New Caledonia could be in trouble.
While New Caledonia currently sit at the top of the standings with seven points, New Zealand is just a point behind and a win could see them leapfrog their neighbours depending on the results of the final match. Malaysia are also in the running sitting equal with New Zealand on six points, but with a two points separating them on goal difference. Malaysia also need to win while a draw – again depending on earlier results – could see New Caledonia hold on to their lead.
Tahiti currently sit on the bottom of the table with a game in hand over Vanuatu who sit out the final round with a bye. If Tahiti can beat New Zealand they will slot into fourth place.
OFC Futsal Championship Invitational – MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEW
This is the official preview of Match Day 5. Please note squads are subject to change.
New Zealand v Tahiti
18h local time, Saturday 16 August
Arène du Sud
Paita, New Calédonia
Referee: Amitesh BEHARI [FIJ]
Second Referee: Daniel KAUSUO [NCL]
Third Referee: Philip MANA [SOL]
Timekeeper: Stephane UPA [NCL]
New Zealand: 1. Atta ELAYYAN (GK), 3. Dylan MANICKUM, 6. Kareem OSMAN, 7. Marvin EAKINS, 8. Daniel BURNS, 9. Jakub SINKORA, 10. Jan FISCHER, 11. Lucas CORDEIRO OSORIO DA SILVA, 12. Mohamed Hicham KAMRI, 14. James VAUGHAN, 15. Ouadhah RAGUED, 18. Elias BILLEH (GK)
Assistant coach: Felipe DI MARCHI BERNADI [BRA]
Tahiti: 2. Steeven TINO, 3. Steeve WONG, 4. Junior CAO, 5. Jacob TUTAVAE (c), 6. Alexis TOOFA, 7. Gabriel KAVERA, 8. Teivarii KAIHA, 9. Anderson TINO, 10. Teaonui TEHAU, 12. Smith TINO, 13. Tehaumanarii BENNETT (GK), 17. Apera TETAUIRA (GK)
Malaysia v New Caledonia
20h local time, Saturday 16 August
Arène du Sud
Paita, New Calédonia
Referee: Chris SINCLAIR [NZL]
Second Referee: Rex KAMUSU [SOL]
Third Referee: Jainut DEAN [FIJ]
Timekeeper: Francis Loxie RONI [SOL]
Malaysia: 1. Firdaus RAZALI (GK) (c), 4. Shamsul ZAMRI, 5. Fitri YATIM, 6. Fariq MOHAMMAD, 9. Qaiser KADIR, 10. Shahmi SANI, 15. Aula AHMAD, 7. Ridzwan BAKRI, 13. Nizam ALI, 14. Rahimi SHATAR (GK), 16. Firdaus AMBIAH, 20. Faris AHMAD (GK)
Coach: Maizal MARZUKI [MAS]
New Caledonia: 1. Ronan EUZEN (GK), 2. Eric SAIHULIWA, 3. Jess POUARAIROUA, 4. Ivan POUROURORO, 5. Loic CAUNES, 6. Mainon KAOUWI, 7. Romain GUITTON, 8. Anderson PAULIN, 9. Ivannoe BAMY, 10. Ludovic BOIT, 11. Malick PAULET, 20. Ronald GAYON (GK)
Coach: William BRET [NCL]