Huge interest in the 2014 OFC U-19 Championship is building around Oceania as the region’s Pacific Island nations hope to join New Zealand in the world’s premier youth tournament.
The winner of this event will qualify for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and with New Zealand hosting next year’s edition the Kiwis absence is a golden opportunity for the rest of the region.In Fiji a 23-man squad is in camp with coach Ravinesh Kumar and playing regular encounters against the top district men’s sides.
“Twenty-three players have been in camp since last month and there are about 13 who are now playing with their respective districts in the National Football League,” Kumar says.
“These players are going through various training sessions during the week days and then join their districts in the weekend. At the moment we, the technical teram of Fiji FA including our officials, would like to acknowledge the districts for utilising the U-19 players.
Fiji FA also have plans in the works which will see the young side tour Australia as they bid to qualify for their first World Cup tournament.
In nearby New Caledonia the efforts are increasing as they too look to qualify for their first FIFA finals event.
While coach Kamali Fitialeata says his side is in with a good chance of qualifying, he knows he’s not alone in thinking that.
“We have to take into account our ambitious adversaries like Fiji or Vanuatu, and even Solomon Islands. Papua New Guinea should be equally feared,” Fitialeata says.
Along with co-coach Mathieu Delcroix, Fitialeata brought the squad together for the first training recently and says all those present are aware of the chance they are being offered – and the need to be well prepared.
Of the 35 players in the group, nine play with AS Wetr and eight with AS Mont Dore in the top tier of the national league, the Super Ligue and while the side has begun training together Delcroix says it’s by no means a side set in stone.
“The group isn’t closed, actually it’s the contrary,” he says. But between now and May it would be surprising to suddenly discover some new talent.”
One player they are hoping to add to the squad later down the track however is Mikael Partodikromo who is currently plying his trade in the youth team at English club Sheffield United.
Meanwhile the Solomon Islands have yet to confirm their entry into the tournament, but have put a call out to 52 players to attend training camps in Honiara, and officials are keeping a close watch on the Telikom S-League in case there is hidden talent to be revealed.
Anthony Talo is just one player of note that has been included in the wider squad list. The experienced young player has attended both the FIFA Futsal World Cup and FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in the past two years, experience that shall prove invaluable should the country send a side to participate.
Also hoping to put themselves in the running for the title are American Samoa, who have run a national U-19 tournament in order to find a squad to enter in the competition.
The OFC U-19 championship is scheduled for May 2014 with the location yet to be determined.