Both the New Caledonia and Tahiti national teams are ready to get the first of their two international friendlies underway in Papeete this evening.
The two OFC Member Associations have partnered, in the face of the high costs of travelling and accommodation, to offer important development matches to their national teams.
The U-16 Tahiti team travelled to Noumea in December last year as the first side to benefit from the exchange, with the national futsal teams set to meet after this international window with three matches scheduled for the week of the Festival des Iles from 2-7 April.
Today’s match marks the first in a year for the Toa Aito who haven’t been in action since they lost 2-1 to Papua New Guinea in the FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifiers – OFC Stage 3.
The choice of squad for interim Tahiti coach Naea Bennett was partially decided for him after naming a wider squad and having some of those players opt out.
He’s also had to contend with injuries, but believes he has still managed to put together a good side to compete with Les Cagous.
“The majority of the group is already used to playing together in the national team,”Bennett explained.
“I’ve included a few youth players, some older players who, to my surprise, had never been called up for the national team.
“I’ve told them all that if they are here, it’s because they know how to play football. My role, is to give them confidence and explain what I expect from them.”
The Toa Aito expect a tough match, but one that will hopefully provide local fans with some entertainment.
“They [New Caledonia] are players who are very active, who also possess good technique as well. If we want to win these games, we can’t concede any goals.
“I’m confident in these players and I’m counting on them to give their all and bring honour to the shirt, and to the public who will support us for these two matches,” Bennett concluded.
For opposing coach Thierry Sardo it’s the first match since he led a side against Estonia during their tour of Oceania late last year.
Les Cagous coach said the side is young, with a couple of more experienced members, and he’s hoping that mix will work come kick-off.
“We’ve been working with this group for a short time now, with some rejuvenation. We played the World Cup qualifier against Fiji, we played the friendly against Estonia so we’ve had the same base of players that we’ve been working with and in the frame for selection,” Sardo explained.
“I’m thinking hard at the moment, do I use my starting XI for both matches, or do I give everyone a chance to play?,” he added.
But with the matches set to count towards the team’s FIFA ranking that decision may be made on his behalf.