The identity of the final participant in the 16-nation field for the upcoming FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013 will be known after this weekend’s Oceania qualifying tournament. Just three nations – Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia – entered the abbreviated three-day qualifying tournament which will conclude on Monday.
The tournament will take the form of a round-robin championship where the team with the most points at the University of New Caledonia in Noumea will join Netherlands, Argentina and El Salvador in Group B at next month’s global event. Significant too will be a unique opportunity to compete at the first FIFA tournament to be held in a Pacific Islands nation.
Solomons lead charge
One of only two Oceania nations to have featured in a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup (not including Australia who are now members of the Asian Football Confederation). One of those nations, Tahiti, will of course not be appearing in the qualifiers leaving the other, Solomon Islands, as pre-tournament favourites at least on paper.
Solomon Islands have a long history of continental success and can boast a streak of four consecutive titles broken only by Tahiti in 2011, as the Tiki Toa reached the world stage for the first time on sand. The Solomons, known as the Bilikiki, have shown their pedigree by enjoying several impressive victories at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup over the course of their four appearances.
New coach Gideon Omokirio has made the transition from being a key member of the national team, having taken the reins from Henry Koto. “We are united in our thoughts and in our objective for the competition,” said Omokirio. “In camp I witnessed resilience and determination and these are qualities we need if we are to overcome the opposition and rise to top spot.”
The Melanesians will boast a wealth of wealth of experience led by James Naka, the top goalscorer during the 2011 qualifiers. Other returnees include Abraham Bird, Nicholas Muri and Fred Hale. A notable inclusion is Anthony Talo who, despite being a goalkeeper, managed to net a winner in a group match at last year’s FIFA Futsal World Cup in Thailand. Quirkily he will play in this tournament as a defender.
Host nation New Caledonia are somewhat of an unknown quantity. Playing on familiar environs will be a major boost, as will the know-how offered by coach Felix Tagawa, who for so was a regular presence in the forward line of the Tahiti national team. Experience on the pitch comes in the shape of New Caledonia stalwart Olivier Dokunengo who led the nation to last year’s OFC Nations Cup final.
Vanuatu didn’t participate in the qualifiers two years ago but are three-time Oceania runners-up, finishing behind Solomon Islands in 2006, 2007 and 2009. Their preparation has been significant, and includes a tournament win in Australia during April.
Like their rivals, Vanuatu will line-up with several familiar names from the 11-a-side game, perhaps most notable is goalkeeper Chikau Mansale who plays for national champions Amicale. “We have been training really, really hard,” said Mansale. “A lot of sacrifices have been made, and a lot of practice has gone in.”