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Futsal Nations Cup set for kick-off

L'Arena du Sud, Noumea (Phototek)

The spectacular Arena du Sud in Noumea will provide a fitting stage for the highly anticipated  OFC Futsal Nations Cup 2019 tournament which gets underway on Monday 28 October with four games on the opening Match Day.

With a host of realistic title contenders fighting for Oceania’s sole place at next year’s FIFA World Cup in Lithuania, the competition is shaping up as one of the toughest OFC events ever to predict.

Just five years after the establishment of their futsal programme, Tonga will be facing a baptism of fire in their first ever senior futsal international against the might of Kurukuru to kick off the day’s proceedings.

The Tongans have arrived in New Caledonia on the back of six weeks of preparations which included a visit to New Zealand where they played four training matches as part of their build up to the tournament.

Coach Manu Tu’alau led the Tonga U-18 Women’s futsal team at the Youth Olympics in Argentina in 2018, where the team impressed with their solid defensive display.

Defence will again play a key role in the Tongan game plan with Tu’alau looking to the likes of Fineasi Palei to dictate the tempo from the back of the court.

The Tonga coach admits his players are facing a tough assignment in their tournament opener against the defending champions but he insists the debutants are relishing the challenge.

“I’ve seen them playing, they are a really good team and hopefully we can limit our mistakes and give them a good game,” he said.

“The boys are not scared, they can’t wait to face the Solomon Islands to learn from the experience and improve, they look forward to play against the best team in Oceania,” added Tu’alau.

Meanwhile the reigning champions will be keen to stamp their authority on the competition when they begin their quest to qualify for their fourth consecutive FIFA Futsal World Cup.

Despite the loss of Jack Wetney and Micah Lea’alafa the Solomon Islanders will still be most people’s favourites to prevail in Nouema.

The vast experience of the talismanic duo of Jameas Egeta and Elliot Ragomo will go a long way in helping to integrate a new generation of Kurukuru stars.

Under the guidance of new head coach Vinicius Laite, the Kurukuru went through an intensive programme that will give them plenty of confidence ahead of the tournament.

Their preparations included two narrow defeats to the highly rated Futsalroos as well as a string of victories over Australian club sides.

Despite their vast experience the Solomon Islanders face an unknown challenge going into their opener against Tonga, according to their coach.

“I don’t know much about them to be honest and this is not this disrespect to them,” Laite insisted.

“I’ve tried to look up on the internet their videos and past games and I saw that they’ve played a game against the University of New Caledonia and the result showed it was a quite close match, but I don’t know how good the other team was.

“We will respect them the same way as we are going to respect every other team that we are going to verse, but we know our strength and we know how much and how hard we have been working and we can’t wait to step on that court and show the other teams what we are capable of doing and to make the nation of Solomon Islands proud,” the Kurukuru coach added.

Elsewhere, American Samoa coach Tunoa Lui brought a youthful squad to their maiden Nations Cup campaign in Noumea.

As part of the country’s steep learning curve into futsal arena, American Samoa have committed to their long term development which began with their participation at the 2017 Youth Futsal tournament in Auckland.

39-year old keeper Nicky Salapu will bring some much needed experience at the back while Austin Kaleopa is one of a number of youngsters who could light up the court with their attacking skills.

The American Samoans will take on New Zealand in their Group A opener and Lui is confident his side’s preparations will hold them in good stead against one of the powerhouses of the competition.

“We believe New Zealand is the best team in our group but we will try our best and we are not going to go down easy,” he said.

‘We have been preparing for this tournament for three month.

Although we didn’t play any warm-up games back home we were fortunate to get some warm-up games here in New Caledonia against some clubs and also Tahiti and I have seen the good progress in our players, so we are looking forward to the start of the tournament on Monday,’ the American Samoa coach explained.

On the back of a decade long development programme New Zealand will be eager to qualify for their first ever Futsal World Cup.

Player-coach Marvin Eakins has blended youth with experience to forge an exciting squad capable of going all the way.

It’s hard to single out individual stars in this well balanced side that will be hard to break down, but in the heat of the battle the attacking flair of the likes of Dylan Manickum and Luc Saker along with current New Zealand futsal player of the year Jordi Ditfort could make the difference.

The Kiwis will be keen to open their campaign in a convincing manner but Eakins insists his side will not show complacency.

“American Samoa are up first and we are a little bit unsure about how they play futsal, so it’s a little bit unknown and we will be cautious,” the New Zealand coach explained.

“We will make sure we approach the game the way that we have been working towards in the last few years but we will also be very respectful of the American Samoans.

“We want to win, we want to get to a world cup, but we are also aware that another five, six teams will also be looking to achieve that, it’s going to be a strong tournament this time and we are excited  to be challenged every single game,” Eakins added.

Following a solid six week training camp under the watchful eyes of head coach Mira Sahib and technical advisor Jerry Sam, Fiji have emerged as a genuine contender for the play-offs.

Sahib and Sam have put together an exciting squad side with genuine futsal talent that will be supplemented by the skill of some of the country’s leading young footballers.

Expect the Fijians to be a well organised defensive unit with the ability to hurt teams on the counter with the explosive speed and attacking expertise of the likes of Setareki Hughes.

Sahib is pleased with the morale in the camp going into their opening match against  Tahiti.

“Overall we are quite optimistic that we will do well in this tournament, our preparation was really good so we are looking forward to it,” said the Fiji coach.

“The spirit is high, the players are really looking forward to our first game against Tahiti.

“We all know that this tournament is the toughest ever in OFC history so we prepared for it well and the players are really excited to kick it off,” the Fiji coach insisted.

Tahiti have also arrived in New Caledonia with high hopes of qualifying for next year’s FIFA World Cup.

Les Aito Arii have the perfect blend of youth and experience that could be the recipe to propel the French Polynesians deep into the tournament.

Coach Jean-Baptiste Barsinas can call on the experience of Matana Bea, Steeve Wong, Teivarii Kaiha and Antoine Tave to provide some defensive solidity while Beach Soccer superstar Teaonui Tehau takes time out from Tiki Toa to give the Tahitians a cutting edge in attack.

And Barsinas is happy with the way his team is tracking ahead of their opener against Fiji.

“We had a good preparation for this tournament, we had two friendly matches here, one against Vanuatu and then against American Samoa, they’re both in Group A and we’re in Group B with Fiji, Solomon Islands and Tonga,” the Tahiti coach said.

“Our first match is tomorrow against Fiji and I think it’s a very important match for us, it’s the beginning of the competition and if we want to stay in the running we need to concentrate, the players are ready.

I hope that we’ll get good results in the pool, so that we might continue into the final phase,” he added.

2011 semi-finalists Vanuatu are hoping to go at least one better in Noumea under coach Richard Lehi, who has picked a young side that will be bolstered by Vanuatu’s U-23 duo Ronaldo Wilkins and Azariah Soromon, both of whom have just returned from the OFC Olympic qualifiers in Fiji.

One of the country’s greatest ever futsal players Ben Hungai will also be keen to turn on the style in what will be likely his last ever international tournament.

Vanuatu will also be aided by the services of Adelaide Fusion Futsal club head coach Joshua Smith from Australia who will be assisting Lehi with formulating the team’s game-plans and strategies.

Facing New Caledonia in the fourth and final match of the opening day, Lehi is expecting a closely contested affair.

“We need to pay extra attention to the hosts,” the Vanuatu coach said.

“I am not going to predict what the result will be, but we hope to put on a good challenge against New Caledonia.

“From what I have seen they have strong players just like my players too and I have confidence in my boys,” he added.

Meanwhile Les Cagous will be looking to emulate their outstanding tournament in 2014, when they last hosted an OFC Futsal event.

Led by experienced and well-travelled Brazilian Juliano Schmeling, who coached Kurukuru during their last two World Cup campaigns, New Caledonia are shaping up as a formidable proposition on their home court.

Fresh from a four-match tour in Malaysia, Schmeling’s side will be match hardened going into their crucial opening fixture against Vanuatu.

Well organised in defence and lethal on the counter, the locals will be marshalled by skipper Cedrick Humuni, with Romain Guitton taking responsibility to lead the attack.

Les Cagous are aware of the importance of starting strongly in front of their home fans, but Schmeling is vary of their first up opponents.

“Whenever they come to a competition Vanuatu are always dangerous,” the New Caledonia coach said.

”They have dangerous players, skilful players and they have some players from football joining the team as well, so they will have good experience, maybe not in futsal but good experience at high level playing football, plus they have other players who have been playing futsal in Vanuatu for a long time.

“We know we will need to be ready because they have arrived over a week ago and they had a few friendly games and I believe they will be very strong,” added Schmeling.

Additional Information

Tonga vs. Solomon Islands
Monday 28 October
Arène du Sud
Noumea, New Caledonia KO: 13:00

Click on link for the live stream


Match Officials
Referee: TBC
Assistant Referee 1: TBC
Assistant Referee 2: TBC
Fourth Official:TBC

TONGA – 1. Mahe MALAFU (GK), 2. Tuia FALEPAPALANGI, 3. Vai LUTU, 4. Hemaloto POLOVILI, 5. Soakai VEA, 6. Sione AHO, 7. Tevita SILI, 8. Ateneo FEAO, 9. Fineasi PALEI, 10. Laulea TAUFA, 11. Valeiaatu FILI, 12. Timote FAKSIIEIKI (GK), 13. Pua FALEPAPALANGI, 14. Semisi OTUKOLO
Head Coach: Manu TU’ALAU (Tonga)

SOLOMON ISLANDS – 1. Anthony TALO (GK), 2. Alvin HOU, 3. Elliot RAGOMO, 4. George STEVENSON, 5. Marlon SIA, 6. Charlie OTAINAO, 7. James EGETA, 8. Jeffery BULE, 9. Arnold MAELUMA, 10. Samuel OSIFELO, 11. Coleman MAKAU, 12. Charlie ATA (GK), 13. Elis MANA, 14. Alvin RAY
Head Coach: Vinicius LAITE (Solomon Islands)

American Samoa vs. New Zealand
Monday 28 October
Arène du Sud
Noumea, New Caledonia KO: 15:00

Click on link for the live stream Click on link for the live stream


Match Officials
Referee: TBC
Assistant Referee 1: TBC
Assistant Referee 2: TBC
Fourth Official:TBC

AMERICAN SAMOA– 1. Nicky SALAPU (GK), 2. Gabriel TAUMUA, 3. Ueli TUALAULELEI, 4. Chris FAAMOANA, 5. Austin KALEOPA, 6. Joseph COLLINS, 7. Alatina VAIALII, 8.  Tea SIATUU, 9.  Malu FAAVAE, 10. Gogo POASA, 11. Takai POULI,  20. Hengihengi IKUVALU (GK)
Head Coach: Tunoa LUI (SAM)

NEW ZEALAND – 1. Mohamed SABRI (GK), 2. Jordi DITFORT, 3. Logan WISNEWSKI, 4. Oban HAWKINS, 5. Luc SAKER, 6. Adam COWAN, 7. Marvin EAKINS, 8. Josh MARGETTS, 9. Stephen PECKHAM, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 11. Lucas SILVA, 12. Elias BILLEH, (GK) 13. Miroslav MALIVUK, 14. Brayden LISSINGTON
Head Coach: Marvin EAKINS (New Zealand)

Fiji vs. Tahiti
Monday 28 October
Arène du Sud
Noumea, New Caledonia KO: 17:00

Click on link for the live stream


Match Officials
Referee: TBC
Assistant Referee 1: TBC
Assistant Referee 2: TBC
Fourth Official: TBC

FIJI – 1. Emori RAGATA (GK), 2. Manasa LEVACI, 3. Filipe BARAVILALA, 4. Setareki HUGHES, 5. Tevita WARANAIVALU, 6. Bruce HUGHES, 7. Iosefo VEREVOU, 8. Kaliova TIVULU, 9. Shahil DAVE, 10. Vineet NADAN, 11. Rajneel KUMAR, 12. Anish KHEM, 13. Christopher WASASALA, 14. Akuila MATEISUVA
Head Coach: Mira SAHIB (Fiji)

TAHITI– 1. Gérard TETAUIRA (GK), 2. Matana BEA, 3. Steeve WONG, 4. Raiamanu TETAUIRA, 5. David AUTI, 6. Olivier HIRIHIRI, 7. Tehaunui BARSINAS, 8. Akareva RIARIA, 9. Teiki TANATA, 10. Teivarii KAIHA, 11. Antoine TAVE, 12. Teaonui TEHAU, 13. Yann WONG, 14. Joseph HAOATA (GK)
Head Coach: Jean-Baptiste BARSINAS (Tahiti)

Vanuatu vs. New Caledonia
Monday 28 October
Arène du Sud
Noumea, New Caledonia KO: 19:00

Click on link for the live stream


Match Officials
Referee: TBC
Assistant Referee 1: TBC
Assistant Referee 2: TBC
Fourth Official: TBC

VANUATU – 1. Anthony QUAI (GK), 2. Kevin DONALD, 3. Pierre ALICK, 4. Rhydley NAPAU, 5. Ben HUNGAI, 6. Alex WILKINS, 7. Charlie VANO, 8. Sandy MESAU, 9. David KALO, 10. Kiki GIDEON, 11. Nicola MAKITO, 12. Ronaldo WILKINS, 13. Azariah SOROMON, 14. Antonio NORMAN (GK)
Head Coach: Richard LEHI (Vanuatu)

NEW CALEDONIA – 1. Rene TASMAN (GK), 2. Eric SAIHULIWA, 3. James NAMULI, 4. Romain GUITTON 5, Christ PEI, 6. Jean Michel Denis POADAE, 7. Ferdinand QENEGEIE, 8. Jean-Philippe SELE, 9. Timothee DELAUNAY,  10. Cedrick HUMUNI, 11. Christopher CAWA, 12. Ronan EUZEN (GK), 13. Marcel HNEPEUNE, 14. Aser XUMA
Head Coach: Juliano SCHMELING (Brazil)


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