OFC: The eight teams taking part in OFC’s premier youth competition now know the path they must take in order to claim regional glory following the official draw for the OFC U-20 Championship.
The teams, including the winner from this week’s OFC U-20 Championship Preliminary, have been drawn into two groups of four teams.
Joining hosts Vanuatu in Group A are defending champions Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia.
Making up Group B are Tahiti, Solomon Islands, New Zealand and the 2016 OFC U-20 Championship Preliminary winners.
Football development across Oceania has been ramping up over the past few years and the 2016 OFC U-20 Championship is shaping up to be one of the most competitive editions in recent times.
In Group A, Fiji have been building on the success of their debut FIFA U-20 World Cup appearance in 2015 and will be out to perform solidly at regional level to once again progress to the world stage.
But Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and New Caledonia will not be far behind. The latter two nations finished second and third respectively in 2014. Vanuatu were the only side to steal a point from the eventual winners two years ago and that will weigh heavily on the side as this time they play hosts.
Papua New Guinea performed well in 2014 and their 2-0 win over Solomon Islands in their opening match marked only their fourth win at this level since 1978. Despite their history-making start, they struggled to find their footing dropping to fifth on the table.
However like Vanuatu and Fiji, Papua New Guinea has a strong development and academy programme which has been producing quality players, and this event will not be any exception.
After sitting out the 2014 tournament due to their automatic qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup as hosts, New Zealand are expected to make a strong return to the region.
After claiming their first win at the FIFA U-20 World Cup and making their first foray out of the group stage, the side want to build on their growing reputation at youth level.
On their tail will be Tahiti a side also expected to make a strong charge for the title after having sat out each edition of the OFC U-20 Championship since their 2008 victory.
Having made the final of both the 2015 U-17 Championship and the XV Pacific Games the side is driven to do one better in this competition and reclaim their grasp on the silverware.
While Tahiti and New Zealand look the favourites to progress from Group B, there can be no discounting Solomon Islands or the yet-to-be determined Preliminary Winners.
Solomon Islands haven’t made the impact at youth level that their reputation suggests they could have however football is second nature in Solomon Islands which means they will likely field a strong side.
Coming out of the preliminary competition and into the competition proper can often be a difficult gap to bridge. But from the four competing sides in Tonga – Cook Islands, American Samoa, Tonga and Samoa – each nation has qualities which could see them upset their group.
Their opponents will have to wait until the final whistle on 27 June before they learn exactly which of those four nations will join them in Group B come September.
2016 OFC U-20 Championship Draw Results
Papua New Guinea (PNG)
New Caledonia (NCL)
Solomon Islands (SOL)
New Zealand (NZL)
Preliminary Winners (TBC)