HONIARA: Five players will make their debut for the Solomon Islands Bilikiki Beach Soccer team at the 2008 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in France next month.
Goalkeeper Henry Pandaverana, Franco Ne’e, Nicholas Muri, Hickley Rence and Michael Taeman are the new faces in the squad of 12 recently named by Team manager Reuben Oimae
Pandaverana played for Guadalcanal Hornets in the recent Solomon Cup, Ne’e plays for Kossa FC, Muri for Real Kakamora, Rence from Western Turtles and Taeman is with Koloale FC.
The five new recruits will join an experienced base of players including Fred Hale, Samson Takayama, Eddie Ngaitin, Gideon Omokirio, Joe Luwi, James Naka and Gibson Hosea who have all had a taste of FIFA World Cup, travelling with the Bilikiki Boys to Brazil last year.
Coach Henry Koto will lead the team in a series of warm up matches before the tournament kicks off.
“We will play two friendly international matches in Switzerland before going to Marseille for the World Cup,” said Oimae.
He admitted that more warm up games against world class opposition would have prepared the team better for the standard of a World Cup
“We wanted to play against Vanuatu and Fiji or other teams, but financial difficulties would not allow us to do so.
“But we are happy that we will play two friendly matches with Switzerland national beach soccer team,” Oimae added.
He is optimistic Solomon Islands will do well in their pool which includes Italy, Portugal and El Salvador.
“We hope to give our best. Chances are there and hopefully we can make it into the second round.”
Having represented Oceania in the last two years, Solomon Islands Bilikikiki Team is no doubt eager to advance from the group phase of a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup for the first time in Marseille.
The Solomon Bilikiki boys have won the last two continental titles, and have not been the whipping players that many expected on the world stage.
At the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio 2006, they beat Cameroon 5-2 in their opener before comfortable defeats by Uruguay and Portugal sealed their elimination.
Last year, grouped with the eventual finalists and Russia, they went home winless, although they put up an admirable fight against the Mexicans, James Naka scoring a hat-trick en route to a 6-3 loss.
Unable to stage a qualifying tournament in time for the world finals in July, the OFC nominated Solomon Islands to be its representative in Marseille due to the side’s regional dominance over the previous two years.
Despite this, Solomon Islands Bilikiki could be in for another history at the FIFA Beach Soccer World.
And it has capable players at its disposal that can get Solomon Islands into the second round in Marseille.
Bilikiki star player Naka has scored nine of Solomon Islands’ 19 goals in FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups so far.
Gideon Omokirio will again captain the Bilikiki in Marseille with the core of the team involving veteran players like Fred Hale, Samson Takayama, Eddie Ngaitin, Joe Luwi, Naka and Gibson Hosea.
“El Salvador plays in the world cup for the first time, but it is not their first time to play beach soccer,” said the Bilikiki Team Manager.
The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup – Marseille 2008 kicks off on 17 July 2008 and concludes on 27 July 2008.
Solomon Islands Bilikiki plays Italy on July 17, against Portugal on July 19 and faces El Salvador July 21.
Meanwhile Bilikiki star player James Naka is recovering from his injury and has resumed training this week.
He is expected to make a full recovery in the next couple of weeks ahead of Bilikiki’s first match against Italy on July 17.
The national beach soccer team leaves Honiara on Sunday 6th July.
Group A: France, Senegal, Uruguay and Iran.
Group B: Portugal, El Salvador, Italy and Solomon Islands.
Group C: UAE, Cameroon, Russia and Argentina and
Group D: Brazil, Spain, Mexico and Japan.