It takes a lot to wipe the smile from the face of Solomon Islands goal-getter James Naka, and even in the wake of the Bilikiki Boys' 7-4 defeat by Italy on Matchday 1 of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2008, the striker was accentuating the positive. The FC Kossa player underlined his international scoring credentials by notching his tenth goal in six appearances in the tournament.
"I'm delighted to be taking part in my third World Cup," he told FIFA.com in an exclusive post-match interview. "It was a really tough opening game against an excellent Italian side. We did our very best to stand up to them but I don't think we had any luck at all. Scoring a goal doesn't really mean anything when your team ends up losing."
Nevertheless, the Oceania representatives could at least console themselves with having edged the second period 3-2. And as far as their No 10 is concerned, he and his team-mates could have given the Italians plenty more to ponder had they had more time to get used to the conditions in Marseille. "I think we arrived here a little late. The sand here is a little different to our beaches and it's far more tiring to play on this pitch than the ones we train on," he said.
Naka was called up to the Solomon Islands' national team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers last year, just before jetting off to Rio de Janeiro for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2007. It was an experience he took in his stride. "To be honest, I find the Beach Soccer World Cup tougher than the qualification matches. The standard is a lot higher here," he explained.
Henry Koto's side will have another chance to gauge those high standards when they take on title candidates Portugal on Sunday, and the islanders know that anything less than a flawless performance against the European giants will see them slip out of the competition at the group stage yet again.
Typically, though, the determined Naka is talking a confident game. "We know we have to do something special in the first round to fulfill our dream of reaching the quarter-finals," he said. "The Portuguese are even better than the Italians but I can tell you we'll be putting so much into it that we'll still be in the competition by the end of the game."
With the coach revving the team bus' engines in the background, and everyone but Naka aboard, there is time for just one last question. Asked whether 2008 will be Solomon Islands' year, the forward responded with an unequivocal answer: "You'd better believe it."