The failure to fire on home soil in 2017 still weighs heavily on the players who were present, but Tahiti’s U-19s are relishing the opportunity to shake off that U-17 disappointment with a big opening performance against New Zealand.
Hosts Tahiti will get their chance on Sunday when they meet the defending champions at Stade Pater at 6pm, after the opening match of the OFC U-19 Championship between Qualifier winners Tonga and Papua New Guinea at 3pm.
Tahiti captain Roonui Tehau, a member of the national U-17 squad which exited the competition in the group stage last year, said the players still discuss that experience.
“We talk about it a lot between us, especially those who were in the U-17 last year and are in this team now,” Tehau said.
“We still talk about it a lot and we’re really hoping to bring the title home.”
Tehau added that despite the disappointment of 2017, they squad are still looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd once more.
“I don’t think it is added pressure, the contrary actually, it’s an advantage to play this competition at home – especially after the failure of the U-17,” he said.
“We are happy to play the world cup qualifier here.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Tahiti coach Bruno Tehaamoana who is almost excited his players get a chance to redeem themselves so early in the competition with an encounter against the defending champions and competition favourites New Zealand.
“I think to meet New Zealand in the first match is an honour, especially as the team hosting this tournament, Tehaamoana said.
“I think the pressure has been mounting ever since the draw, but I think the boy are incredibly concentrated and waiting for the start of this competition.”
For New Zealand it’s an equal honour to be opening their campaign against the host nation.
Coach Des Buckingham expects the opening game to be an enjoyable one for everybody, from players to fans, given the preparations which have gone in.
“We know the preparation that has gone in, not just into Tahiti but all the other countries which are competing very well,” he said.
“I think we only have to look at the last U-17 cycle which a lot of these players would have played in, but even looking at our own results. In the group stage we had a 2-1 narrow win against Solomon Islands, and even in the knockout stage, it took to the 93rd minute to get a winner in the semi-final against Papua New Guinea.
“The results are very close and the preparations in terms of some of their teams, from what we know and what we’re hearing, they’ll be very strong.”
New Zealand haven’t had as long together as Buckingham might have liked, but the squad is still a strong one with plenty of talent and unity.
There’s a good number of players returning from the U-17s of 2017 with several newcomers also set to bolster the ranks.
Tahiti meanwhile have several France-based players adding something special to their unit, and with the team having developed as footballers since a young age, these boys have fitted right back in.
In the opening match Tonga are preparing to make the leap up to join these seven nations in the second stage of an OFC tournament for the first time.
It’s an exciting prospect for the Polynesian nation who hope to do their countrymen proud with their performances, which start with a tough opener against Papua New Guinea.
“This competition is still a question mark for us because it’s the first time for us to come through to the second stage,” Tonga captain Sione Tuifangaloka said.
“We’re going to do our best whatever we come up against.”
Tonga coach Soane Mailangi said although his side can ultimately be considered the underdogs of the tournament, they trust in their abilities.
“In our preparation, as soon as we came through the first stage we started thinking about our preparations for the second stage,” he said.
“We know what we did, we know what we’re doing. We’re looking forward to our first game against Papua New Guinea.”
Opposing coach Harrison Kamake has spent the season coaching the Besta United team in the National Soccer League in Papua New Guinea, which is the development squad most of these players have come through.
Although there’s a number who play outside this team, Kamake said club rivalries stay off the pitch when they come together for national duties.
Papua New Guinea are focused on the task ahead, but remain tight-lipped about their chances.
“Everyone is here to compete and we’ll see how we go. But we’re happy to be here, excited,” Kamake said.
Tonga vs. Papua New Guinea
Sunday 5 August
Stade Pater, Tahiti
Kick-off: 15h00 local (Monday 6 August 14h – TGA / 11h PNG / 12h VAN & NCL / 13h FIJ & NZL)
Referee: Joel HOPKEN (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Jeremy GARAE (VAN)
Assistant Referee 2: Hilmon SESE (VAN)
Fourth Official: Robinson BANGA (VAN)
Tonga: 1. Semisi OTUKOLO (GK), 2. Petueli TOTOTAHA, 3. Sione TU’IFANGALOKO, 4. Ofa KITE, 5. Tevita VAKATAPU, 6. Vai LUTU, 7. Tuia FALEPAPALANGI, 8. Kalakaua FAIVAILO, 9. Tevita KAU, 10. Mohammad RAJANI, 11. Viliami TUKIA, 12. Tevita SILI, 13. Opesi TU’IFANGALOKO, 14. Sione VA’ENUKU, 15. Jacob KILMARTIN, 16. Tellos KAUFUSI, 17. Atunaisa NAMOA, 19. Setafano VAOMO’UNGA, 20. Sionela LUI (GK)
Coach : Soane MAILANGI (TGA)
Papua New Guinea: 1. Baxter MORRIS (GK), 2. Laventine MONUO, 3. Kimson KAPAI, 4. Sylvester LUKE, 5. Freeman GIWI, 6. Ricky WADUNAH, 7. Emmanuel SIMONGI, 8. Stahl GUBAG, 9. Barthy KEROBIN, 10. Oberth SIMON, 11. Yagi YASASA, 13. Cameron NUABI, 15. Binniget LUAINE, 16. Jonathan ALLEN, 17. Dopson NOI, 18. Wolfram GREGORY, 19. Abraham ALLEN, 20. Graham BERIGAMI (GK)
Coach: Harrison KAMAKE (PNG)
New Zealand vs. Tahiti
Sunday 5 August
Stade Pater, Tahiti
Kick-off: 18h00 local (Monday 6 August – 14h PNG / 15h VAN & NCL / 16h FIJ & NZL / 17h TGA)
Referee: George TIME (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Bernard MUTUKERA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Stephen SENIGA (SOL)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
New Zealand: 1. Cameron BROWN (GK), 2. Jordan SPAIN, 3. Dino BOTICA, 4. Joe BELL, 5. Robert TIPELU, 6. Dane SCHNELL, 7. Matthew CONROY, 8. Trevor ZWETSLOOT, 9. Max MATA, 10. Charles SPRAGG, 11. Willem EBBINGE, 12. Zac JONES (GK), 14. Jorge AKERS, 15. Callan ELLIOT, 16. Leon VAN DEN HOVEN, 17. Boyd CURRY, 18. Kingsley SINCLAIR, 19. Oliver WHYTE
Coach: Des BUCKINGHAM (ENG)
Tahiti: 2. Antonio FIU, 3. Hannel TEHAAMOANA, 4. Kavai’ei MORGANT, 5. Purutu NANUAITERAI, 6. Ramanui AMAU, 7. Ramanui AMAU, 8. Yann VIVI, 9. Eddy KASPARD, 10. Roonui TEHAU, 11. Mauri HEITAA, 12. Hugo BOUBE, 13. Keali’i WONG, 14. Tutehau TUFARIUA, 15. Hauragi HURI, 16. Tevaearai TAMATAI (GK), 17. Rainui NORDMAN, 18. Samuel LIPARO, 19. Orirau TEIHO, 20. Ariimana TAAROAMEA, 23. Moana PITO (GK)
Coach : Bruno TEHAAMOANA (TAH)