The pool placements were revealed by OFC earlier this week and with it came the confirmation that there will be 7 teams in this year’s competition namely New Zealand, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, American Samoa and Fiji alongside Solomon Islands.
The biggest surprise the championship has thrown up so far has been Tahiti’s non-entry which somewhat affects its flavour since the French Polynesian side are the defending champions having won the title in 2008 and represented Oceania in the 2009 FIFA U20 World Cup held in Egypt.
Solomon Islands is grouped with New Zealand and New Caledonia and the fight to break out of the group and qualify for the knock out stage of the championship will be very difficult but a similar outlook is applicable to Group A as well.
New Zealand will be the toughest team in Solomon Islands’ group since this side will be looking to reaffirm their status as the number one football country in the region at all levels after losing the title to Tahiti in 2008.
Mamulas head coach, Noel Wagapu, says that his team is prepared to meet any opponent in the competition but the revelation of the groupings has given his side extra motivation to work harder against the challenge that they anticipate against New Zealand and New Caledonia.
“All teams in this competition have prepared well and nobody is there to lose, that is the bottom line; New Zealand will be tough, New Caledonia will be tough and Solomon Islands will be tough. Coming out on top is what we want and we have worked on getting that for the last 3 months,” Wagapu says.
Commenting on Tahiti’s non-entry Wagapu says that Tahiti will be missed for the flavour that they bring to the competition.
“It would be great to have Tahiti in the qualifiers because they are a very strong side with a lot of flair and passion to them. It would be great for Solomon Islands to go up against them but, unfortunately, this will not be happening this year,” Wagapu says.
Fiji and Vanuatu are likely contenders for the second stage in Group A but Papua New Guinea have become a football force in the region in recent years and a surprise berth for them in the knockout stage is not out of the cards.
Fiji has been vocal about their preparations and currently the team is in New Zealand where they arrived on March 23 where they are preparing for the championship and their inclusion in the Fiji national soccer league will give them an extra edge.
Asked if there is any team in the competition that the Mamulas should be wary of Wagapu says that his side is preparing with the view that every game is a grand final match.
“We respect the preparations of our opponents and we will not consider any particular team over others but each match we play will be treated as our grand final match,” Wagapu says.
The majority of Wagapu’s crop of players hail from the newly established Telekom S-League with a good number of them regulars for their clubs including KOSSA defenders William Lamani and Michael Sira as well as Dennis Ifunaoa who plays for Solomon Warriors.
The winner of the OFC U20 Championship will represent Oceania in the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup which will be held in Colombia later this year.
The Mamulas will leave the country on April 15. The OFC U20 Championship will kick off on April 20.