As they gear up for their fourth consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup next week in Dubai, the word from the Solomon Islands’ camp is that the current squad has just the right blend of youth and experience.
The Oceania champions have failed to survive the group stages in all three of their previous attempts, but this year Solomon Islands coach Henry Koto has set his players the target of reaching the quarter-finals; this despite having been grouped alongside powerhouses Portugal and Uruguay, as well as hosts United Arab Emirates.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Koto said, “This isn’t the first time we’ve played in the World Cup – in fact it’ll be our fourth appearance. Consequently, our players have gained a great deal of experience from previous editions, which will help us achieve our goal of reaching the knockout phase.”
Asked for his thoughts on his Group A rivals, the coach said his charges would not be intimidated and were ready to do battle with anyone. “All three sides are good, but then so are we. We haven’t just come here to make up the numbers – we intend to compete. I believe the morale and togetherness of the squad will help us provide stiff competition.”
Solomon Islands’ opening fixture will be against Uruguay, a team they also ran up against at Rio de Janeiro 2006, when the South Americans won 10 – 5.
Looking ahead to the game Koto said, “The match against Uruguay will be very tough, especially as it’s the first game of the tournament. We played them in 2006, but we’re a different side now, and the players are keen to get off to a winning start.”
The 33-year-old believes his squad have a balance of youth and experience this time around, saying, “We’ve a lot of talent in the team, including some new faces and some old hands. James Naka is the elder statesman, having been with us since 2006, while Robert Laua, who’s very skillful, as well as very young, is our newest recruit.”
Koto added that the team’s successive appearances at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup have helped them develop not only their skills, but also the understanding between players. “The team has improved a lot since our maiden appearance in 2006. Back then we just weren’t good enough. Now, however, the experience we’ve accrued and our intensive training regime should make a difference.”
The coach concluded the interview with his tip for top honours in Dubai: “Portugal are a very strong team and the Brazilians are excellent. Without doubt, these are the two best sides in the tournament.”