OFC: As the only side to claim an opening day win, New Zealand has made the strongest start to the OFC U-20 Championship of the four Group B teams chasing glory in Luganville, Santo, Vanuatu.
An impressive Cook Islands kept the favoured Kiwis limited to just three goals, and it will only get harder for the five-time champions as they prepare to take on a determined Tahiti today.
The Cook Islands will also have their work cut out for them when they open the day’s action against the Solomon Islands, a side that showed their mettle when they came back from a two goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with the French Polynesians.
Setting a powerful example to his teammates was Cook Islands captain Keegan Inia who was decisive between the stick, and will again need to be at his best when he comes face-to-face with the Solomon strike-force.
A deep-sitting defensive approach from Cook Islands worked well against New Zealand and may well be the approach Matt Calcott adopts against the attacking-minded Solomon Islands.
But he is also aware that it is a taxing approach to adopt over 90 minutes.
“It will be very, very tough. Solomon Islands and Tahiti very good technically and we have to reassess our energy levels.
“It’s a very tough group but it was a good start for the Cook Islands and we want to continue that.”
Like older brother Jack, Albert Witney is impressive with the ball at his feet showing speed, agility and accuracy against Tahiti.
Solomons Coach Pedro Mateo said the strong mentality of his side contributed to their ability to pull themselves back into the mix.
“They know they can give a lot of quality football. The first half we didn’t enjoy and we suffered a bit but the second half we enjoyed thanks to the endurance we developed over the two months we spent in camp,” Mateo said.
The second encounter of Match Day 2 has Tahiti taking on New Zealand, with the Francophone side looking at it as a must win.
After dropping a two goal lead over Solomon Islands and having to share points, coach Ludovic Graugnard has to get his players to refocus on the task ahead.
“The first sentiments we have ahead of the game against New Zealand is that we needed to win that first game against Solomon Islands, to put ourselves under less pressure for the coming match,” Graugnard says.
“We know New Zealand well, they’re a well organised team that defends well and utilises the same tactical setup as the senior side, with some great players in their like Logan Rogerson.”
For New Zealand, the three point on opening day were a good start, but coach Darren Bazeley believes there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to the final pass.
“The conditions are tough, but we’ve come into it saying we’ve got to deal with as everyone has got to deal with it.
“We’ve come out of it with a 3-0 win to start the tournament off and I think whatever happened I’d be thinking there’s things we could be doing better.”
New Zealand scored three excellent goals courtesy of debutant Myer Bevan, but they have the ability to threaten through many more avenues if they can get that final ball right.