The wait is over as Solomon Islands are set to take on Papua New Guinea on the opening day of the OFC U-16 Championship at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara tomorrow.
Playing at home will give an extra edge to the hosts but Papua New Guinea are here to compete.
Both Melanesian countries are determined to start their respective campaign with a positive result after falling short at youth level in recent years with some competitive teams.
For the home team the preparations have been long and at times arduous, but coach Stanley Waita believes that is what is necessary if they want to become the first Solomon Islands team to qualify for a FIFA football tournament.
“We’ve been training for four or five months already and we are ready to go,” Waita said.
“It’s difficult and challenging as well, the task ahead of us.
“When you ask: ‘are you going to qualify for the world cup?’, of course it’s easy to say yes, but it’s hard to do it.
“If we want to qualify we really need to work hard and I believe my boys are doing just that and we will make a difference.”
For Solomon Islands, like Vanuatu and Tahiti before them, the biggest advantage is that the competition is being played on home soil, in front of home fans.
“We have an upper hand which is a positive thing for us. We need to take advantage of everything we can.
“This is our home and if we can use that to our advantage we will qualify for the world cup.”
The first test for Waita and his young side comes on Sunday when they play Papua New Guinea, a side the former international doesn’t know too many specifics about.
“I haven’t seen Papua New Guinea play, but with past experience PNG is always a strong side but we need to take one step at a time.
“My boys are up for it on Sunday.”
His opposite number, Papua New Guinea coach Anthony Pakakota is confident his team will compete against the hosts.
“It’s been a good three days polishing off what we started in our trainings at home in our country,” Pakakota said of the days spent since the team arrived in Solomon Islands.
“Our boys come from all over the country and our challenge is logistics. We’ve done well to get them prepared to come here with preparations starting in each of the four different regions to start with.”
With the groundwork having been laid, Pakakota is focusing on the task at hand, which is a tough opening encounter against their hosts.
“I have heard that they have been preparing quite a long time, six months or more,” he said.
“We believe they will be strong if they have prepared well, but we’re all good and ready for a challenge.
“With the strong backing from the vocal local crowd Solomon Islands will be difficult, but we look forward to it.”
Papua New Guinea vs. Solomon Islands
Sunday 9 September
Lawson Tama Stadium
Referee: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 1: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 2: Malaetala SALANOA (SAM)
Fourth Official: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Papua New Guinea: 1. Andrew BANIAU (GK), 2. Bulter HOSEA, 3. Russell PATROM, 4. Elijah POTUA, 5. Karlo KELLY, 6. Akaya WADUNAH, 7. Morientes SOW, 8. Joel ALEX, 9. Renagi ILA, 10. Lee-Navu FAUNT, 11. Morris DEVI, 12. Joseph EALEDONA, 13. Josiah DAIMOI, 14. Siegfried BESCHEL, 15. Townsville LAKAMANGA, 16. Emmanuel BAFENG, 17. Ben BONIEPE, 18. Bruce TIAMPO, 19. Ismael YOPYYOPY, 20. Jesse MANDARI (GK)
Coach: Anthony PAKATOTA (PNG)
Solomon Islands:1. Davidson MALAM (GK), 2. Derick TAEBO, 3. Stanford FAKASORI, 4. Leon KOFANA, 5. Javin WAE, 6. Alford KANAHANIMAE, 7. Steward QUANAFIA, 8. Maxwell KEANA, 9. Charles MANI, 10. Raphael LE’AI, 11. Chris SATU, 12. Gideon SUTA, 13. Densley GESINI, 14. Richie KWAIMAMANI, 15. Philip ROPA, 16. Clayton MENAPA, 17. Hamilton PAO, 18. Fabio PAO, 19. Benbate LAMUPIO, 20. Pateson TONGAKA (GK)
Coach:Stanley WAITA (SOL)