New Caledonia U-18 men’s national side is buzzing with anticipation ahead of the inaugural OFC Youth Development Tournament hosted by Vanuatu between 15-24 August.
Drawn into group B with Vanuatu and India, Felix Tagawa’s men will kick off their campaign against the hosts at Port Vila’s Korman Stadium on Thursday night before facing their Asian opponents six days later.
Meanwhile Papua New Guinea, Tahiti and European representatives Estonia will battle for Group A supremacy in order to secure their spot in next Saturday’s title decider.
Despite limited time to prepare for the tournament the New Caledonia coach is confident his players are match-fit and ready to test themselves.
“We played some matches but we only recently selected the team and have been together about four weeks,” explained Tagawa.
We see each other only once a week because we’re in the middle of the championship in New Caledonia. We focused a lot on our competitors and our mentality, and we’re trying to bring the group together to get to know each other as quickly as possible, so they can play together,” Les Cagous coach said.
“In this age category, the players should already be at an above average level of competition. We needed to quickly identify players for this tournament, and they have to already be active to take part,” Tagawa insisted.
After flying Oceania’s flag alongside New Zealand at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 in India, the New Caledonians are keenly aware of the importance of testing and measuring themselves against international opponents outside of our region.
Tagawa is confident the tournament in Vanuatu will provide his as well as the other three Pacific participants valuable lessons.
“It’s certain that there will be developmental advantages which come from this tournament,” he said.
“We need to repeat it, we need to multiply it. Today it’s the U-18 involved, tomorrow I hope it will be the U-16, the seniors as well. Because to develop you have to play football, you have to have international competitions, if FIFA offers more opportunities to do it with UEFA and OFC like this, football in the region will evolve,” Tagawa insisted.
However, Les Cagous’ first priority is their opening match against Vanuatu, which according to Tagawa will be a tough assignment
“Vanuatu is a team that plays football well. We played them last year in Tahiti with the U-19s and we had trouble,” recalled the New Caledonia coach.
“We scored really early and had to then ensure we held onto the match.
“This time the tournament is at their home and they’ll have the local supporters behind them which will be a plus for them. I think that to start it’ll be 50-50,” Tagawa said.