They were not expected to progress beyond their confederation's qualifiers, so the Solomon Islands Beach Soccer side will surely be travelling to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup as under-underdogs. Yet, that matters little to the proud Bilikiki boys who will be representing their country on the Copacabana beach in November. For the Solomon Islands, this is their first appearance at a FIFA event - and the players and the country are determined to make the most of it.
The reward for overcoming Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and hosts Tahiti in the Oceania qualifiers in September is mouthwatering ties with Portugal, Cameroon and Uruguay in Rio. The Melanesians are working hard in preparation for the competition, even though a planned training camp in the Reunion Islands had to be cancelled. Coach Viv Wickham, however, is in buoyant mood ahead of the trip to Brazil.
He said: "Qualifying for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup has inspired a lot of Solomon Islanders, especially when they read in the paper that we will be up against the likes of Cameroon, Uruguay and Portugal, country's that we can only dream of playing against in any form of football.
"To go from beginners to World Cup finalists really fascinates the public and since qualifying for Brazil, the general feeling amongst all Solomon Islanders is that 'we can do it', especially after they have seen what we have done. Everyone wants to get involved somehow and the fact that we have qualified for a World Cup has made the unselected outdoor internationals envious of what there fellow countrymen have achieved."
Learning all the time
Despite getting to Brazil, Wickham realizes that the triumvirate of Cameroon, Uruguay and Portugal are all stronger sides on paper than the Solomon Islands. Yet while Wickham is not promising any shocks, he feels that the team has developed a strong mentality by being constantly referred to as 'the underdogs' or the 'plucky outsiders.'
"In terms of experience and international exposure we are probably the most disadvantaged team in our pool," he admitted. However, we have proved so many people wrong and had to overcome so many barriers in getting to Rio so stage fright, amongst other things, is just another barrier we have to overcome.
"But we have a lot of young and athletic players whose attitude to learning is first class. They have taken on what we have taught them and will be out to play how we want them to play. Apart from country names, we haven't even heard of the players in our pool before and that's pretty much how we will approach all games in Rio."
Just as the team's training camp had to be put on hold, Wickham concedes the side's knowledge of their group stage opponents leaves a lot to be desired. This is a tournament where you can expect to see the Solomons playing their own game, playing for the love of their country - and pride of just being there.
"We haven't heard of any of them before," he smiled. "I'm not saying that in an arrogant way. We have only been exposed to some of the outdoor stars of the world like the Socceroos. A few of our team played against Australia in the OFC Nations Cup and World Cup play-offs prior to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. We are there to compete and if we compete to the best of our ability with minimal mistakes - that will be a good performance."