The Solomon Islands national U-17 football team fly out of the country today for the UEFA International development tournament in Minsk, Belarus.
The young lads bid farewell to their families at the Henderson International Airport this afternoon with mix emotions as they started a long journey to Brisbane en route England and then Belarus.
The trip is made possible through a new partnership between UEFA, OFC and SIFF as a development pathway for aspiring footballers in the Oceania region.
Solomon Islands coach Stanley Waita acknowledges responsible people behind the trip.
“On behalf of the boys, I want to thank the president of SIFF, CEO and SIFF staff for making this trip possible,” he said.
“Also, I would like to thank UEFA and OFC for this great opportunity for my young boys to have a taste of European football.”
Former Solomon Islands international is anticipating an eye-opener for the young lads.
“I believe it will be an entirely new experience for the boys but we have been working really hard in training for this trip.
“We know European football is top of the scale but as a team, we’re prepared to challenge our opponents,” Waita added.
National U-17 captain, Charles Mani said his teammates are rearing to compete in the UEFA competition.
“We are all excited to be given this rare opportunity to play against European countries away from home,” Mani said.
“I can tell every single member of the team is ready to play for our country out there against some of the best youth teams in Europe.
“It’s a new experience for most of the players including me to travel out of the country.
“We are representing the country and I would like to call on Solomon Islanders to show support towards the team.”
Caretaker SIFF president, William Lai motivates the team in a pre-departure briefing.
“I want to let you know that this journey has had started last year and we’re so proud of you all to be our representatives in Europe,” he said.
“This is an opportunity every youth players in the Solomon Islands wish to have but you’re so privileged to be among the chosen few.
“Continue to work hard and I believe you will represent us well in Belarus. All the best to you all.”
Waita only managed to travel with 19 players due to Fabio Pao’s decision to withdraw based on a call from Royals football club.
“We only travel with 19 players since Royals decided not to release Fabio,” Waita said.
“I don’t know the reason behind their decision as the player has indicated that he wants to be part of the team for this European trip.
“They went to the media about their decision and post it on social media.
“Unfortunately, I received a call last night from one of their coaches asking if Fabio could be travelling with the team.
“I told the coach it is impossible to make a last minute change since all travelling arrangement was already finalized by UEFA and OFC.”
New Zealand based duo Raphael Lea’i and Leon Kofana are travelling with the team.