The eight contenders for the 2017 OFC U-17 Championship have arrived eager to display their talent on the international stage when the competition kicks off in Papeete, Tahiti, on Saturday.
Five teams will hold more experience in their side than past teams with participants from last year’s inaugural OFC Education Centre recruited to represent their respective countries. Fiji’s Mohammed Naizal, Samoa’s Eti Fatu, Papua New Guinea’s Emmanuel Simongi, Vanuatu’s Abert Vanva and Solomon Islands’ Steward Toata were all selected for the Auckland-based programme, attending school, training with OFC coaches, and learning life skills before returning to their home countries. The programme’s success is evident in the contribution the five footballers have already made on the field during warm-up matches for the competition.
Competition favourites New Zealand hold a wealth of locally-based players, with the majority of the side from Wellington Phoenix academy and Onehunga Sport. Brisbane Roar midfielder Oliver Duncan is the only exception to the all New Zealand-based side. As the only current OFC member association to ever win the OFC U-17 Championship, New Zealand will be feeling confident about retaining the title in the 2017 edition.
Tahiti will be fighting hard for a rematch against New Zealand after the kiwis just scrapped through to win in the 2015 final, after both teams battled to a 1-1 draw and continued to a penalty shoot out to determine the winner. With the two sides in different pools, there’s a good chance both teams could meet again in the knockout stages of the competition.
Samoa carry a young side with both Lotial Mano and Falaniko Nanumea only celebrating their 15th birthdays in January, but after their success at the preliminary in 2016, the side has experience together on the field and a taste for victory.
With the Gope-Fenepej name on the list for the New Caledonia side, the Melanesians will hope it brings them the same good fortune as it did last year when Georges Gope-Fenepej battled with the New Caledonia national team to draw 0-0 with New Zealand in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifier – Stage Three in Kone, New Caledonia. the younger Paul Gope-Fenepej will hope to score an even better result if the two sides meet in the knockout stage of the OFC U-17 Championship, especially after New Caledonia lost both knockout stage matches in 2015.
Find more information on OFC U-17 Championship team line-ups here: