The attractive island location of Tahiti provides the stunning backdrop for the 2007 OFC U-17 Championship with hosts Tahiti and Oceania giants New Zealand tipped to challenge strongly for the title.

New Zealand coach and former international striker Colin Tuaa will be confident that his youngsters will be ready for the challenge following a moderately successful tour of South America that included a 4-0 defeat against Argentina, a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Peru and an encouraging performance in a goalless draw with Chile.

A victorious three-match friendly international series against Tahiti in Auckland in December 2006 underlined New Zealand's favourite's tags for the OFC U-17 Championship Tahiti 2007. Tahiti gave the Kiwis a stern challenge in the first of those international matches and were leading 2-0 at half-time before ultimately succumbing 3-2 thanks to goals from Youngheart Manawatu midfielder Corey Chettleburgh and a brace for pacy striker Moses Petelo.

Tuaa has arguably the region's finest talent in this age range iat his disposal in the shape of Team Wellington striker Costa Barbarouses. Barbarouses missed the first game because of club commitments but his inclusion in the second and third matches contributed to New Zealand's decisive victories by scorelines of 4-0 and 9-0 respectively.

Tahitian coach Eddie Etaeta was crestfallen by the dramatic loss of form at the end of the three-match friendly series but remains optimistic that home advantage will see his side recover the form and competitiveness from the first half of that opening match.

"We were not strong mentally in the second and third games against New Zealand but this was the first time for us in a training camp environment away from Tahiti, so I expect a big improvement when we begin the tournament," he said.

Sadness for the Solomons
The biggest loss to the tournament will bethe Solomon Islands U-17 team, who have been forced to pull out due to budget constraints. The Solomon Islands Football Federation General Secretary Eddie Ngava was extremely disappointed by the decision to withdraw the team, with top quality youngsters such as Tony Otini, Lenson Bisili and Victor Fenehia now unable to showcase their talents.

Fiji national team coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti will be hoping this set of U-17 players make as big an impression on the tournament as the U-20 national team managed at the recent OFC U-20 Championship. Buzzetti will not be with the team in Tahiti due to national team commitments and is replaced by Farouk Janeman. The stand-in coach named a strong squad but will be without star defender Sireli Guivalu who is injured. Nevertheless, Janeman's team possess pace and strength throughout the squad and expectations remain high.

Much will be expected of New Caledonia's young charges, with many regarding the current U-17 team, who inflicted a 3-0 defeat on their U-20 counterparts last year, as one of the best to come out of the French Territory. Considering that same U-20 side went on to perform creditably at the recent OFC U-20 Championship, it serves to illustrate the potential of the age group beneath them to challenge for the OFC title and qualification for FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007.