OFC: With two places at the FIFA U-17 World Cup up for grabs in today’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.”