As the only side to claim an opening day win, New Zealand have made the strongest start to the OFC U-20 Championship of the four Group B teams chasing glory in Luganville, Santo.
An impressive Cook Islands kept the favoured Kiwis limited to just three goals, and it will only get harder for the five-time champions as they prepare to take on a determined Tahiti tomorrow.
The Cook Islands will also have their work cut out for them when they open the day’s action against the Solomon Islands, a side that showed their mettle when they came back from a two goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with the French Polynesians.
Setting a powerful example to his teammates was Cook Islands captain Keegan Inia who was decisive between the stick, and will again need to be at his best when he comes face-to-face with the Solomon strike-force.
A deep-sitting defensive approach from Cook Islands worked well against New Zealand and may well be the approach Matt Calcott adopts against the attacking-minded Solomon Islands.
But he is also aware that it is a taxing approach to adopt over 90 minutes.
“It will be very, very tough. Solomon Islands and Tahiti very good technically and we have to reassess our energy levels.
“It’s a very tough group but it was a good start for the Cook Islands and we want to continue that.”
Like older brother Jack, Albert Witney is impressive with the ball at his feet showing speed, agility and accuracy against Tahiti.
Coach Pedro Mateo said the strong mentality of his side contributed to their ability to pull themselves back into the mix.
“They know they can give a lot of quality football. The first half we didn’t enjoy and we suffered a bit but the second half we enjoyed thanks to the endurance we developed over the two months we spent in camp,” Mateo said.
The second encounter of Match Day 2 has Tahiti taking on New Zealand, with the Francophone side looking at it as a must win.
After dropping a two goal lead over Solomon Islands and having to share points, coach Ludovic Graugnard has to get his players to refocus on the task ahead.
“The first sentiments we have ahead of the game against New Zealand is that we needed to win that first game against Solomon Islands, to put ourselves under less pressure for the coming match,” Graugnard says.
“We know New Zealand well, they’re a well organised team that defends well and utilises the same tactical setup as the senior side, with some great players in their like Logan Rogerson.”
For New Zealand, the three point on opening day were a good start, but coach Darren Bazeley believes there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to the final pass.
“The conditions are tough, but we’ve come into it saying we’ve got to deal with as everyone has got to deal with it.
“We’ve come out of it with a 3-0 win to start the tournament off and I think whatever happened I’d be thinking there’s things we could be doing better.”
New Zealand scored three excellent goals courtesy of debutant Myer Bevan, but they have the ability to threaten through many more avenues if they can get that final ball right.
Cook Islands vs. Solomon Islands
Luganville Soccer City Stadium
Tuesday 6 September
Referee: Robinson BANGA (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Hilmon SESE (VAN)
Assistant Referee 2: Phul SINGH (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Arnold TARI (VAN)
Vital Statistics: The Cook Islands have never played a competitive U-20 match against the Solomon Islands.
The Players: Samuel Maoate-Cox and Kimiora Samuela played crucial roles in shutting down the New Zealand attack and will once again have their work cut out for them.
Coach Quote: “For me, I want the same as the second half against Tahiti. I want them to treat the ball well, they know how to do it. I want them to decrease their mistakes and improve their treatment of the ball because we want the people of Vanuatu to enjoy the football from Solomon Islands.”
Cook Islands: 1. Keegan INIA (GK), 2. Jarves APERAU, 3. George ELLIS, 4. Sunai JOSEPH, 5. Michael WOOD, 6. Kimiora SAMUELA, 7. Samuel MAOATE-COX, 8. Cahjun WILLIS, 11. Thane BEAL, 12. Melbourne MATAKINO, 13. Orin RUAINE-PRATTLEY, 14. Conroy TIPUTOA, 15. Owenne MATAPO, 17. Kristian YOUNG, 18. Dwayne TIPUTOA, 20. Manaariki PIERRE (GK)
Coach: Matt CALCOTT (NZL)
Vital Statistics: More than half the Solomon Islands squad had never been on an aeroplane before coming to Vanuatu for this tournament.
The Players: Albert Witney was included in the Kurukuru training squad as they prepared for the FIFA Futsal World Cup and that on-ball talent was evident in the opener. He forms a lethal attack with Adrian Rickson, David Filia and Jabeth Solomon.
Coach Quote: “We know Tahiti have a lot of the same players who played in the U-17 and they will be a very strong team. They are one of the top two teams in this competition along with New Zealand.”
Solomon Islands: 1. Desmond TUTU (GK), 2. Sedrick DOLIASI, 3. Joe GISE, 4. Richard RARAMO, 5. Kisina SILAS, 6. Steven TOLEYI, 7. David FILIA, 8. Molis GAGAME, 9. Jabeth SOLOMON, 10. Albert WITNEY, 11. Adrian RICKSON, 12. Harold NAUANIA (GK), 13. Ian KALU, 14. Darold KAKASI, 15. Sandrack TUI, 16. Augustine WAITA, 17. Israel TATAI, 18. Alvin RAY, 19. Larry ZAMA, 20. John DAUTA
Coach: Pedro MATEO (ESP)
Tahiti vs. New Zealand
Luganville Soccer City Stadium
Tuesday 6 September
Referee: Medric LACOUR (NCL)
Assistant Referee 1: Bertrand BRIAL (NCL)
Assistant Referee 2: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
Vital Statistics: Tahiti have won three of their seven matches against New Zealand at this level previously, and have never drawn.
The Players: Captain Heirauarii Salem takes charge in the middle and has the ability to drive his side forward on attack and hurry them back to defend when required.
Coach Quote: “It’ll be another type of match for us and because we didn’t do the job in our first match we now have to do everything we can to get one of those two top places.
Tahiti: 1. Moana PITO (GK), 2. Brandon AUTAI, 3. Tuma TIATOA, 4. Vaianui DROLLET, 5. Hauragi HURI, 6. Ryan PETITGAS, 7. Roonui TEHAU, 8. Ro’onui TINIRAUARII, 9. Heirauarii SALEM, 10. Michel MAIHI, 11. Sandro TAU, 12. Rainui NORDMAN, 13. Joachim TEANUANUA, 14. Toriki GUYOT, 15. Marcus SIEJIDR, 16. Tetahio TERIINOHOPUAITERAI (GK), 17. Raivaru HANERE, 18. Kaena ONUU, 19. Daniel SEINO, 20. Raumatahi NOHO
Coach: Ludovic GRAUGNARD (TAH)
Vital Statistics: New Zealand’s last victory over Tahtii at this level was in 2007 when they won 2-0.
The Players: Myer Bevan made an immediate mark on the tournament scoring three goals. But equally as important is his movement off the ball where he is able to move into space and create channels for his teammates to exploit.
Coach Quote: “When you’re coming up against teams that are organised, don/t give you space and aren’t looking to push players forward then it becomes frustrating at times. But we’ve got some good players who will have learned a lot from that opening match and hopefully we can keep our performances improving throughout this tournament.”
New Zealand: 1. Michael WOUD (GK), 2. Jack-Henry SINCLAIR, 3. Sean LIDDICOAT, 5. Hunter ASHWORTH, 6. Luke JOHNSON, 7. Logan ROGERSON, 8. Moses DYER, 9. Myer BEVAN, 10. Clayton LEWIS, 11. Sarpreet SINGH, 12. Cameron BROWN (GK), 13. Charlie THOMAS, 14. Jake PORTER, 15. Lucas IMRIE, 16. Joe BELL, 17. George DEBENHAM, 18. Reese COX
Injured: 4. Nando PIJNAKER
Absent: 19. Joshua DIJKSTRA (GK)
Coach: Darren BAZELEY (NZL)05