The 2007 OFC U-20 Men's Championship gets underway on Friday with Samoa facing Fiji in the tournament's opening fixture at Trusts Stadium, Waitakere, New Zealand.

The 13-day tournament sees Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu play in a round-robin format with the group winner going on to represent the Oceania Football Confederation at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada in June and July.

Samoa's three match build-up to the tournament will provide reasonable preparation for their opening fixture against an unpredictable Fijian side who, despite political tensions at home, start as favourites.

Expected to start for Samoa is Damian Fonoti, the cousin of Australia's FIFA World Cup™ star Tim Cahill. However, Fonoti was hardly aware of the family connection until a family gathering some years ago when the youngster walked out the backdoor of his home and Cahill casually walked inside.

He recalled: "I had to look twice and then said to my mum, 'Hey, that's Tim Cahill!' and she said, 'Yes, he's your cousin.' It was amazing and he was really friendly and down to earth. We hugged and he smiled a lot."

The similarities do not end there. Both are midfielders, possess plenty of stamina and have an eye for goal. Like Australia at Germany 2006, Samoa are underdogs in this tournament, but Fonoti is cautiously optimistic of securing a place in Canada. "Our team has some good players but we might be short of experience in different match situations," he said.

Matchday One also sees Tahiti and New Caledonia meet in a battle of the French-speakers and an exciting clash between hosts and tournament favourites New Zealand and the Solomon Islands.

Pressure on the hosts
The All Whites will be keen to make amends for their embarrassing performance in last year's Oceania U-20 Championships where they suffered shock losses to Fiji and hosts, the Solomon Islands.

Since then the side has showed improved form, securing New Zealand's first series victory over the Young Socceroos in Australia in May.

However, coach Stu Jacobs admits they will be facing the unknown when the seven-team tournament gets underway next week.

"We don't really know what to expect," he said. "We play the Solomon Islands first on Friday without a great deal of knowledge but we will get a chance to look at the other teams before we play them. We want to defend as far up the park as possible against the island nations instead of dropping off."

Jacobs knows his side is expected to qualify for Canada and admits that brings added pressure.

"Coming second is not an option," he continued. "We expect to win the tournament. We are focused on getting to the World Cup and getting through the qualifiers is a stepping-stone. These players have a great opportunity, a career changing opportunity if they can get to the World Cup."