The Solomon Islands national U-19 football team jet-off to Tahiti with a mission to create history at the OFC U-19 Championship by securing a spot in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland next year.
As a Pacific football mad nation, Solomon Islands has never qualified to any FIFA World Cup tournament in the outdoor code since gaining independence from Britain in 1978.
The country’s national futsal and beachsoccer teams have appeared on the world stage at their respective FIFA World Cups.
But it remains a dream when it’s the outdoor teams as the country has been always a game away from qualifying in recent OFC Championships.
Remarkably, some members of the current U-19 side were part of the team which loss 3-2 to New Caledonia in the semi-final of the 2017 OFC U-17 Championship in Tahiti.
Fast forward few months later, after six months of intensive training, Batram Suri and company will be aiming to go one step better this time around.
The former Solomon Islands international striker is given the task to guide the U-19 national side as head coach.
Speaking to SIFF Media, Suri said his young lads’ main target is to reach the last four and most importantly qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“The players can’t wait to play as the tournament is getting closer and for sure it will be history for us to become the first national football team to ever qualify to any FIFA World Cup competition,” Suri said.
“Our coaching team picked the strongest side we can possibly put together based on what we have at our disposal.
“The atmosphere in the camp is in high spirit as we all know the task before us is a huge challenge for everybody involved”.
Suri knows that expectation at home is always high when a football team represent Solomon Islands in any international tournament.
“I learn from past experience that whenever you put on the national jersey there comes with it a pressure to deliver since nearly all Solomon Islanders expect you to do well,” he explained.
“I have encouraged the young boys to focus on our game plan and try to execute what we have had practice over the past months.
“We all know it’s going to be hard because other countries are going into the tournament with the same mentality to win.
“But we will not focus on other teams as our main priority is to make sure we do all the right things first,” the former professional footballer said.
Lone Solomon Islands international and team captain, John Aeta said he is honored to lead the team once again after his stint as U-17 captain in last year’s ill-fated campaign also in Tahiti.
“I am proud to once again given the captain’s armband to lead our boys in Tahiti,” he said.
“We are ready to represent our country and do better than last year where we stumbled in the semi-final against New Caledonia.
“We have 5 players in this team who experienced what it’s like to miss out on qualification and we are determined to well this round.
“I believe if we stick to our game plan and everybody put 200 per cent in our games, we will make the country proud”.
The coaching staff also has the service of another former Solomon Islands international, Eddie Rukumana who was part of the national U-20 side that missed out of a place in South Korea 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup after an extra time 2-1 defeat at the hand of hosts Vanuatu in 2016.
When asked what is the difference from the 2016 team and this year’s side, Rukumana expressed the current team are a much better team collectively.
“I was part of the U-20 team in Vanuatu and as an assistant coach, I would say this team have players with much better qualities,” Rukumana said.
“The only thing is if we could reduce our mistakes and do everything right then we will definitely do much better in Tahiti.
“Our current players are so gifted and have individual brilliance which can help us reach our target but then will need to play as a team to achieve our dreams”.
Meanwhile, the team depart Honiara this afternoon en route to Tahiti via two stopovers in Brisbane and Auckland.
Solomon Islands is drawn in an all Melanesian group which include Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
The young lads take on New Caledonia in their opener on Tuesday 7 at 12 midday Solomon Islands local time.
Solomon Islands travelling team;
Joel NANAGO (Henderson Eels), Junior John MATA (Marist FC)
George LEGA (KOSSA FC), Absolom WAWANE (Malaita Kingz), Junior AENGARI (Solomon Warriors), Anthony RASAU (Marist FC), John AETA (C) (Marist FC), Junior ASHLEY (FC Guadalcanal), William KOMASI (Malaita Kingz)
Henly RAMO (Malaita Kingz), Don KEANA (Marist FC), Frank Kabui (Malaita Kingz), Patrick TAROGA (Marist FC), Lino HOU (Henderson Eels), Junior David (Marist FC), Tuita MAEOBIA (Henderson Eels), Marcus CHAN (Western United)
Ali MEKAWIR (Western United), Simon Wolfgang Jedzine (Western United) and Raynick LAETE (Henderson Eels)