With two places at the FIFA U-17 World Cup up for grabs in tomorrow’s semi-finals the four competing sides are playing for the biggest prize of their lives.
New Caledonia and Solomon Island will open the day’s action at 4pm with one of the two set to qualify for their first FIFA football world cup.
Solomon Islands have previously qualified for the beach soccer and futsal world cups – but India 2017 would be a real accomplishment for the football-mad nation.
New Caledonia coach Michel Clarque is preparing his side for an unpredictable match against a style of football the young Caledonians have never experienced.
The added carrot of the tickets to India means the very fit Solomon Islands side will leave nothing on the field when they meet.
“It will be very difficult because the four teams are trying to qualify for the World Cup in India,” he said.
“We’ve never played the Solomon Islands because this is our first international tournament so we will have to wait and see.
“We have to try and win and we’ll do everything possible to qualify.”
Having already achieved their original goal to reach the semi-final of the tournament, Solomon Islands coach Marlon Houkarawa has now turned his focus towards winning their next match and making history for his nation..
“It was our plan to reach the semi-finals, so being in the semi-finals itself is a dream come true, but now we need to continue the dream by winning this match,” he said.
“Our ultimate aim is to qualify for the World Cup so this semi-final will be a big match for us.”
After studying his opponent’s style of play, Houkarawa is preparing his side for a game plan similar to their effective strategy against New Zealand.
“I have watched some of their games. They are quite fast up front but I have something planned for them,” he said.
“The objective is to score goals while playing a strong defensive game. We’ll apply a similar game plan as we did against New Zealand.”
The second semi-final clash will see five-time consecutive champions New Zealand take on Papua New Guinea, who caused a huge upset for hosts Tahiti in their last match of Group B when they fought their way back from 1-0 down at the break to a 2-1 victory.
Despite remaining unbeaten in the group stage of the competition, where they conceded just one goal, New Zealand coach Danny Hay is preparing for a difficult semi-final match against a technically talented and well-rested Papua New Guinea side.
“We know that Papua New Guinea will be a different sort of side, a lot more technical in terms of their style of play. It’s going to be a difficult assignment for us,” he said.
“They’ve had an extra day’s rest so they’re probably well-prepared, whereas our boys have only just come off the field.
“Now it’s just going to be about trying to get in our recovery and then preparing for that massive game.”
Papua New Guinea coach Harrison Kamake isn’t worried about coming up against the competition favourite, taking a relaxed approach to the match as if it was any other game and keeping his team’s focus on their own game plan.
“We are approaching the match like always. Nothing new, no pressure. We’re just looking forward to the game, just as we had with past games,” he said.
“We have not thought much about the World Cup spot, we’ve just been approaching each game as they come.
“We’re looking at one game at a time and over the next couple of days we will prepare to take on New Zealand.”
Although Kamake is feeling calm ahead of their New Zealand clash, he knows his side will miss captain Ricky Wadunah in the centre of the park after the midfielder received a one game suspension for two yellow cards in the group stage.
“It’s a huge blow to the team. With his leadership qualities, the boys are definitely going to miss him but I think we have some good boys that can lead the team,” he said.
“They have the right attitude and they are prepared to take on the game without our captain.”
New Caledonia vs. Solomon Islands
Tuesday 21 February
Vital Statistics: New Caledonia will hope to have better luck in this year’s semi-final after Tahiti defeated them 3-2 in the 2015 edition.
The Players: Paul Gope-Fenepej proved dangerous in New Caledonia’s last match, coming off the bench in the 69th minute and scoring when he connected with a corner kick only three minutes later to secure the lead for his side.
Coach Quote: “We’ve never played the Solomon Islands or New Zealand because this is our first international tournament so we will have to wait and see. We have to try and win and we’ll do everything possible to try and win.”
New Caledonia: 1. Germain ITA (GK), 2. Josuah HLEMU, 3. Titouan RICHARD, 5. Cameron WADENGES, 6. Abiezer JENO, 7. Raymond LUEWADRIA, 8. Cyril NYIPIE, 9. Vita LONGUE, 10. Lionel THAHNAENA, 11. Paul GOPE-FENEPEJ, 12. Bernard IWA, 13. RAOUL WENISSO, 14. Japhet QAEZE, 15. Ezeckiel TAOUAVAMA, 16. Pierre BAKO, 17. Jean-Pierre ENOKA, 18. Robert CAIHE, 19. Henri KAPOERI, 20. Unë KECINE (GK)
Suspended: 4. Kiam WANESSE
Coach: Michel CLARQUE (NCL)
Vital Statistics: Solomon Islands last faced New Caledonia in the group stage of the 2011 edition of the competition held in New Zealand. Both sides battled neck-and-neck, but Solomon Islands were up 2-1 when the final whistle blew.
The Players: Junior Kaoni will be thirsty for more goals after dominating the Samoa defence and scoring four goals in their final Group B match on Saturday. Kaoni is also the only player in the 2017 OFC U-17 Championship to score against New Zealand. The striker picked up a miscued New Zealand clearance and found the net in their 2-1 loss last Wednesday.
Coach Quote: “After the last game the boys know that they are good enough to be in the semi-final. The semi-final is like the grand final for us because winning it will book our tickets to the World Cup.”
Solomon Islands: 1. Joel NANAGO (GK), 2. John AETA, 3. Aengari GAGAME, 4. Junior ASHLEY, 5. Raymond DAUABU, 6. Bobby RAMO, 7. Junior KAONI, 8. Simon JEDZINI, 9. Don KEANA, 10. Elis MANA, 11. Ali MEKAWIR, 12. John BROWN (GK), 13. Stanley RYNIKER, 14. Danny OFENI, 15. Alfred ELVIS, 16. John MANA, 17. Michael LALO, 18. Steward TOATA, 19. Richmond HATARAU, 20. Junior ALLEN
Coach: Marlon HOUKARAWA (SOL)
New Zealand vs. Papua New Guinea
Tuesday 21 February
Vital Statistics: New Zealand’s last encounter with Papua New Guinea was in the group stage of the 2015 edition of the competition held in American Samoa and Samoa. New Zealand won 3-0 to finish the competition undefeated.
The Players: Goalkeeper Zac Jones will be a hard wall for the Papua New Guineans to break down, only letting one ball past the entire tournament. Jones’ coordination with the New Zealand backline provides a solid defensive structure but the keeper also isn’t afraid to come forward from his box and receive a ball at his feet when the backline needs an extra man.
Coach Quote: “We know that Papua New Guinea will be a different sort of side, a lot more technical in terms of their style of play. It’s going to be a difficult assignment for us.”
New Zealand: 1. Dylan BENNETT (GK), 2. Jordan SPAIN, 3. Josh ROGERSON, 4. Liberato CACACE, 5. Jake WILLIAMS, 6. Leon VAN DEN HOVEN, 7. Elijah JUST, 8. Oliver DUNCAN, 9. Max MATA, 10. Willem EBBINGE, 11. Matthew CONROY, 12. Zac JONES (GK), 13. Matthew JONES, 14. Kingsley SINCLAIR, 15. Ben DEELEY, 16. Oliver WHYTE, 17. Matthew PALMER, Charles SPRAGG
Coach: Danny HAY (NZL)
Papua New Guinea
Vital Statistics: Tuesday’s fixture against New Zealand will be Papua New Guinea’s first semi-final appearance in the history of the OFC U-17 Championship.
The Players: Midfielder Emmanuel Simongi upset a boisterous Tahiti crowd in their final Group A match on Friday when he connected with a corner in the 87th minute to give Papua New Guinea the late lead. Simongi was one of seven football players selected for the inaugural OFC Education Centre in Auckland last year, participating in a rigorous training programme while attending high school in New Zealand.
Coach Quote: “We are approaching the match like always. Nothing new, no pressure. We’re just looking forward to the game, just as we had with past games,”
Papua New Guinea: 1. Charley NINGIKAU (GK), 2. Milton BIWA, 3. Kimson KAPAI, 4. Sylvester LUKE, 5. Freeman GIWI, 6. Samuel DETNOM, 7. Emmanuel SIMONGI, 8. Aben PUKUE, 9. Barthy KEROBIN, 10. Oberth SIMON, 11. Yagi YASASA, 13. Thomas KONGRAGLE, 14. Emmanuel YOPIYOPI, 15. Dunstan JEFFEREY, 16. Jonathan ALLEN, 17. Dopson NOI, 18. Wolfram KOB, 19. Abraham ALLEN, 20. Graham BERIGAMI (GK).
Suspensions: 12. Ricky WADUNAH
Coach: Harrison KAMAKE (PNG)
To view the match schedule for the OFC U-17 Championship 2017 visit www.oceaniafootball.com