Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek – New Zealand’s Finn Surman (left) and Fiji’s Brendan McMullen (right) at the pre-final Media Conference
New Zealand and Fiji have completed their preparations for Saturday night’s OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier final at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland.
Coaches Rob Sherman (Fiji) and Darren Bazeley (New Zealand) and players Brendan McMullen (Fiji) and Finn Surman (New Zealand) shared their thoughts on the encounter at the pre-final Media Conference held at FIFA’s Auckland office.
(Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek Fiji coach Rob Sherman and midfielder Brendan McMullen at the pre-final Media Conference)
So what of both side’s chances?
Sherman: “ I think it’d be fair to say New Zealand are probably favourites, and the expectation on them will be reasonably high. But we’re reasonably confident that we can give a give them a tough go. And we know in football, that anything can happen.”
Bazeley: “ There’s pressure on us because it’s such a big reward. We want to go to the Olympics, we’ve got players around the world who are watching the game, important players, I’ve had Woodsy (Nottingham Forest striker Chris Wood )on the phone this morning, wanting to know how it’s going, you know, it’s a big reward. So, yes, there’s pressure to win this game. But we treat it like another game of football, it’s 11 v 11. It’s an opponent that we have faced. So we know a little bit about them. The boys have worked hard, we’re in a pretty good place physically and tactically. And so we’re ready.”
McMullen: “After the first game against New Zealand, tough loss, we all kind of were in the same mindset, we believe that we could have done something there. There’s been a lot of time and place for improvement. And then we kind of slowly kept coming together after every training session and game.”
Surman: “ It’s a privilege to be able to play in these games and these tournaments. We’re supposed to win 99% of these games, but you want to treat each game one at a time, like whatever’s happened before it doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, they could do something different, or we could do something different. it’s whoever comes out on the on the day. And so with the pressure that comes with it, wanting to go to Paris. It is just a big occasion for us and we’re all looking forward to it.”
New Zealand beat Fiji 3-1 in the tournament opener 10 days ago and both camps have drawn on positives from that encounter, while Bazeley felt the gap is closing.
Sherman: “Well, you know, we started quite brightly, in all honesty, decent spells of possession, then we had a period where we just couldn’t cope with one or two things they were doing, which then resulted in the in the goals. At halftime, we rectified that and in the second half I thought we were once again competitive. Yeah, they had more share of the ball. But ultimately, I think the chances were even.”
Bazeley: “We’ve had some good battles with them over the last couple of years in the Under 20’s. We have played them a few times and they’re getting stronger. Now they have a coach like Rob who is getting them organised.
They’re going to be tricky. It’s a tricky game, they’re quite physical, got some big boys and they’ve got some players with some skill as well. So we must make sure that we manage properly, and we just need to do our job to keep our discipline keep our concentration and we should be fine.”
(Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek NZ captain Finn Surman and coach Darren Bazeley at the pre final Media Conference)
So what have Fiji learned from the tournament?
Sherman: “I think there are some real Stark lessons in some regards. I think the domestically based boys, there’s a gap in their tactical understanding, without any shadow of a doubt. Maximising their fantastic physical capabilities is another factor. So those will be the two priorities as we move forward towards the 2026 World Cup qualifying process.”
How challenging will it be if New Zealand concede first?
Bazeley: “ It’s a good question because we’ve not really faced that. We are going into a game where we’re the favourites to win. But it’s always a tricky occasion, that’s why I keep talking about discipline and concentration, because we can’t get involved in off the ball things, and we’ve just got to make sure that we defend properly, , we don’t take risks that we play our game, and just have a good solid performance.”