If border restrictions ease, top international futsal teams could be offered the opportunity to play in next year’s OFC Futsal Invitational tournament.

The Solomon Islands are scheduled to head to the rescheduled FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania in September, and they will need to play some tough games to ensure they’re battle hardened before they try and take on the best teams from around the globe.

In the past two years, OFC’s Head of Football Development Paul Toohey has overseen the implementation of a proposed new schedule for futsal tournaments within the Pacific.

Ideally, OFC will hold their senior men’s Invitational tournament every four years, beginning in 2021, with the OFC Futsal Nations Cup to run on the same cycle with the next instalment due in 2023.

A youth event will also be played every two years to provide development opportunities.

These future tournaments are all subject to change depending on how the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve with no dates confirmed yet.

Previously, the 2013 and 2014 senior international OFC futsal events saw Malaysia from the AFC invited to compete. Australia also took part in 2013.

Those events weren’t used as qualifiers for the FIFA Futsal World Cup, which is why countries from other Confederations were invited to play, an idea that may be replicated next year.

Toohey said it was valuable to see high-quality teams compete in OFC events.

“One of the things I was advocating for was that teams from the Pacific needed to play more games to be competitive at the FIFA events,” Toohey said.

“We also needed to play quality teams as well.”

Malaysia celebrate a penalty shoot-out win in the OFC Futsal Invitational in 2013. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

If next year’s OFC Futsal Invitational goes ahead, Toohey would like to see strong competition from across the futsal world alongside the Oceania teams who want to perform well at the top level.

OFC has multiple cross-Confederation agreements, which could lead to other nations competing.

“The idea with next year is the Invitational could take place and that we’d be looking again at inviting teams from across the Confederations to participate and potentially use the Memorandums of Understanding that we have,” Toohey said.

“It’s about seeing the different styles of play that exist across the futsal spectrum, and giving the Oceania teams the opportunity to experience and adapt. Futsal is growing so rapidly and we need to keep pace. The risk of falling well behind the rest of the world is very real, unless we create opportunities for our teams to play more games.”

Youth focus

OFC held their maiden international youth event three years ago to find representatives to attend the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Argentina.

That marked the first time futsal was included in the Summer Youth Olympics and while there’s no confirmation it will be on the card for the next edition, Toohey remained hopeful.

“It was a huge success in Buenos Aires, with packed arenas and fantastic matches.”

The next Summer Youth Olympics will be held in 2026 because the 2022 edition was postponed due to complications provided by COVID-19.

OFC’s next edition of their youth event was meant to be running soon but was postponed due to coronavirus, which has put the tournament calendar out of shape.

Toohey said OFC still intended to run youth tournaments in the Pacific when border restrictions have eased to provide a pathway for upcoming players.

“We are really looking at development given there’s also limited resources. If we can have a senior tournament every two years and a youth tournament every two years, hopefully what we start to see is some of those youth players featuring in the senior team, either the next year or two years later.”