The 2018 OFC U-16 Championship campaign for four nations, including the hosts Solomon Islands and defending champions New Zealand, will get underway at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara tomorrow.
The competition’s opening match will see Vanuatu hope to make an early impact on the tournament outcome when they take on New Zealand, before Solomon Islands welcome neighbours Papua New Guinea.
Having experienced the heat in Honiara and survived with his club side Team Wellington earlier this year, New Zealand coach Josè Figueira is hoping for a similar outcome for his young charges.
Team Wellington topped their group and went on to claim the title of Oceania club champions for the first time in the club’s history.
With fond memories of his time in Solomon Islands, Figueira is excited this team will get their first taste of representing their country in Honiara.
“I think when we found out it was here in Honiara, obviously being here earlier in the year, it was very exciting,” the Englishman said.
“It’s the boys’ first experience of international football and I don’t think there’s a better place for them to come and experience a big competition and hopefully some big crowds and good football.”
Figueira said the side has prepared well and is focused on the task at hand – which is successfully defending their title. However, knows how difficult it will be.
“I think it’s the aim of all the teams, they want to come here and win. Recently, we saw it with the U-20s, just how close these competitions are becoming and so for us we’ll take it one day, one game at a time,” he said.
“The boys, they want to qualify. There’s the hunger and the desire. The feet are on the ground, we’re relaxed and we look forward to the game against Vanuatu on Sunday.
For Joel Rarua, taking a national men’s side for the first time after several tournaments in charge of national women’s teams, Vanuatu know New Zealand’s qualities, but have to focus on themselves as much as their opponents.
“As we all know, New Zealand is the defending champions of OFC,” he said.
“I respect New Zealand, I respect the strategy, the coaches but it’s always defined in 90 minutes who will win the game.
“I am preparing for these 90 minutes.”
Like their opponent, adjusting to conditions is ongoing, with the Vanuatu squad finding it much warmer than home soil.
“Comparing Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, this is one of the hottest countries and having the competition here we have to deal with how we manage that.
“The boys were quite tired following the flight and first training but they are starting to feel the Solomon soil and to fell what they will be exposed to on Sunday in terms of the competition.”
In the day’s second match Papua New Guinea will play Solomon Islands with the two Melanesian nations both with points to prove after falling short at youth level in recent years despite some strong showings.
Papua New Guinea coach Anthony Pakakota has experienced some difficulties in getting his full squad together at home due to the geographic spread of the country, however remains confident that the side is prepared.
“It’s been a good three days polishing off what we started in our trainings at home in our country,” Pakakota said of the days spent since the team arrived in Solomon Islands.
“Our boys come from all over the country and our challenge is logistics. We’ve done well to get them prepared to come here with preparations starting in each of the four different regions to start with.”
With the groundwork having been laid, Pakakota is focusing on the task at hand, which is a tough opening encounter against their hosts.
“I have heard that they have been preparing quite a long time, six months or more,” he said.
“We believe they will be strong if they have prepared well, but we’re all good and ready for a challenge.
“With the strong backing from the vocal local crowd Solomon Islands will be difficult, but we look forward to it.”
For the home team the preparations have been long and at times arduous, but coach Stanley Waita believes that is what is necessary if they want to become the first Solomon Islands team to qualify for a FIFA football tournament.
“We’ve been training for four or five months already and we are ready to go,” Waita said.
“It’s difficult and challenging as well, the task ahead of us.
“When you ask: ‘are you going to qualify for the world cup?’, of course it’s easy to say yes, but it’s hard to do it.
“If we want to qualify we really need to work hard and I believe my boys are doing just that and we will make a difference.”
For Solomon Islands, like Vanuatu and Tahiti before them, the biggest advantage is that the competition is being played on home soil, in front of home fans.
“We have an upper hand which is a positive thing for us. We need to take advantage of everything we can.
“This is our home and if we can use that to our advantage we will qualify for the world cup.”
The first test for Waita and his young side comes on Sunday when they play Papua New Guinea, a side the former international doesn’t know too many specifics about.
“I haven’t seen Papua New Guinea play, but with past experience PNG is always a strong side but we need to take one step at a time.
“My boys are up for it on Sunday.”
Vanuatu vs. New Zealand
Sunday 9 September
Lawson Tama Stadium
Honiara, Solomon Islands
KO: 10:00 local (9h PNG / 10h VAN / 11h NZL )
Referee: Norbert HAUATA (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Folio MOEAKI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Sione TEU (TGA)
Fourth Official: Sione MAU (ASA)
Vanuatu: 1. Jimson SHEM (GK), 2. Manro TENENE, 3. Andrewson MALTERA, 4. Francois ATEL, 5. Brian MALAS, 6. Julian BANGA, 7. Thompson KALOPILELU, 8. Ronaldino KALKAU, 9. AJ ZACHARIE, 10. SEMICI KALTACK, 11. Pietro TAKARO, 12. Karl DINGLEY, 13. Austin HOLI, 14. Junior OKAO, 15. Bathis NALAU, 16. Kalpausi TAIWIA, 17. Alandro SAU, 18. Jemmy KALOROA, 19. Jonah ABEL, 20. Brendon TANKON (GK)
Coach: Joel RARUA (VAN)
New Zealand: 1. Alex PAULSEN (GK), 2. Max DRAKE, 3. Kris NAICKER, 4. Adam HILLIS, 5. Ryan VERNEY, 6. Campbell STRONG, 7. Marko STAMENI, 8. Jackson MANUEL, 9. Henry HAMILTON, 10. Joseph LEE, 11. Matt GARBETT, 12. Luca TAYLOR (GK), 13. Finn O’CONNOR, 14. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 15. Bradley WILSON, 16. Sean BRIGHT, 17. Nathan LOBO, 18. Benjamin OLD, 19. Hayden AISH, 20. Harry BARK
Coach: Josè FIGUEIRA (ENG)
Papua New Guinea vs. Solomon Islands
Sunday 9 September
Lawson Tama Stadium
KO: 15:00 local (14h PNG / 15h VAN / 16h NZL )
Referee: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 1: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 2: Malaetala SALANOA (SAM)
Fourth Official: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Papua New Guinea: 1. Andrew BANIAU (GK), 2. Bulter HOSEA, 3. Russell PATROM, 4. Elijah POTUA, 5. Karlo KELLY, 6. Akaya WADUNAH, 7. Morientes SOW, 8. Joel ALEX, 9. Renagi ILA, 10. Lee-Navu FAUNT, 11. Morris DEVI, 12. Joseph EALEDONA, 13. Josiah DAIMOI, 14. Siegfried BESCHEL, 15. Townsville LAKAMANGA, 16. Emmanuel BAFENG, 17. Ben BONIEPE, 18. Bruce TIAMPO, 19. Ismael YOPYYOPY, 20. Jesse MANDARI (GK)
Coach: Anthony PAKATOTA (PNG)
Solomon Islands: 1. Davidson MALAM (GK), 2. Derick TAEBO, 3. Stanford FAKASORI, 4. Leon KOFANA, 5. Javin WAE, 6. Alford KANAHANIMAE, 7. Steward QUANAFIA, 8. Maxwell KEANA, 9. Charles MANI, 10. Raphael LE’AI, 11. Chris SATU, 12. Gideon SUTA, 13. Densley GESINI, 14. Richie KWAIMAMANI, 15. Philip ROPA, 16. Clayton MENAPA, 17. Hamilton PAO, 18. Fabio PAO, 19. Benbate LAMUPIO, 20. Pateson TONGAKA (GK)
Coach: Stanley WAITA (SOL)