Oz's ever-ready Joeys red-hot favourites
The Oceania (OFC) qualifiers for the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru will take place in New Caledonia between 2 and 15 April. Following the late withdrawal of New Zealand and the two Samoas, just nine teams will battle it out for one spot at the world finals that run from 16 September to 2 October in four Peruvian venues.
Australia are considered hot favourites. Having qualified for the past four instalments of the FIFA U-17 World Championship and only ever having missed one of ten finals, they are the major power in the region at junior level. Taking no chances ahead of the regional showdown, they have a strong, prepared squad to go along with their historical edge.
A recently concluded five-match tour of Chile will have the Joeys chomping at the bit ahead of the Oceania championship. Coach Ange Postecoglu - who led the lines at the last FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland in 2003 - called the South American tour "ideal preparation for the squad."
Taking heart from Chile
Opening the tour with a 2-0 win over Palestino's youth side they followed up with a 0-3 loss to Chile's junior national team. Two consecutive draws (against Universidad Catolica's juniors and one more against the Chile side that previously beat them soundly), were prelude to a credible 2-1 win over iconic club Colo Colo's youth team.
All in all Postecoglu saw the experience in a favourable light, using it as a litmus test before naming his final squad for the Oceania qualifiers.
"The team improved with every match and it was a very good learning experience for the boys. Playing South American teams is always a good challenge and to come away with 2 wins, 2 draws and a loss is an excellent return," he said.
The coach's final 20-man squad comprises all locally based youngsters with the exception of Royston Griffiths who plays his club football for Blackburn Rovers in England.
Another tour of Japan should have the team more-than ready for the competition in New Caledonia.
The rest, up against it
The qualifying competition will be played in a two-group format. Group A will consist of four teams (Australia, Tahiti, Vanuatu and Tonga) while Group B will have five teams (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and the Cook islands). The lack of numerical symmetry in the groups is the result of three late withdrawals from the competition, necessitating a speedy resolution.
The Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have recently begun to show signs of life at senior level and the youngsters will surely be looking to make a historic bang and reach their first finals. Tahiti and Fiji have also been tipped for better things in recent years.
Wednesday 13 April - Semi Finals
17:00 Winner Group A vs. Runner up Group B
20:00 Winner Group B vs. Runner up Group A
Friday 15 April - Final and 3rd.4th Play-off
17:30 3rd and 4th place plays off
20:00 Winner first semi final vs. winner second semi final