New Zealand is currently hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand, which has become renowned across the globe for showcasing many of the beautiful game's best young players. The 2015 edition has also been an especially positive experience for Oceania's representatives, with hosts New Zealand qualifying for the last 16 for the first time and Fiji securing a historic maiden win at a FIFA tournament.
Yet even before the tournament had kicked off, an event in Auckland was looking beyond New Zealand 2015 towards developing the next generation of footballers across Oceania. It was here, in the city's AUT Millennium Center, that a FIFA youth coaching workshop took place involving coaches from all 11 OFC member associations. American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu were all represented by at least two coaches, with all present given the opportunity to attend, observe and learn from this world-class tournament.
The course, which took place between 28 May and 7 June and was conducted in cooperation with OFC’s Technical Department, had the aim of ensuring a lasting legacy from the U-20 World Cup and facilitating further development in the region through FIFA’s Youth Football program. Its focus was on youth football development and the use of match analysis and the application of this analysis in training, a process that included putting ten U-20 World Cup matches under the microscope and following that up with practical sessions.
For the participants, the experiences gained proved invaluable, with Kamali Fitileata - coach of New Caledona's U-20s - among the many enlightened.
"We are very thankful to FIFA," he said. "With this support, we believe that we will develop a much larger pool of successful and perceptive coaches who will push Oceania to a higher level. Creating the right environment to implement my team model - the way we want to play, taking into account our country's culture, players characteristics and so on - will be my priority when we get back home. Consistency will be the keyword."
Looking forward, not only for Fiji but for the Pacific region, coach education is vital, as well as player development.
Rob Sherman, New Zealand Football's Technical Director, also felt that major strides had been made. "The course was of great value to our coaches and to the region as a whole," he said. "It offered a rare opportunity to watch and analyse top class football and identify football trends. It is crucial that coaches understand the process of analysing matches and use that analysis to train players to deal with match-related problems."
With the development of football and footballers in Oceania the course's central aim, the OFC were naturally enthusiastic supporters. Patrick Jacquemet, the organisation's technical director, spoke of seizing the initiative and building on existing progress.
"Success does not happen by chance," he said. "We have to take things into our own hands and execute our plan. Even if we are not at the top of football pyramid, the game is growing in Oceania.
"We have to acknowledge that the continuous support provided by FIFA is key for the development of participation and performance in the region. We now have specific and sustainable football programmes in all our member associations and the results of Fiji and New Zealand during this tournament emphasises the progress we are making."
This recent Auckland event is, of course, just one small step in the journey towards raising standards in Oceania. But it was notable that Fiji coach Frank Farina, in reflecting on his side's U-20 World Cup adventure, hit the same note as those involved in the workshop.
He said: "This tournament has already done wonders for Fijian football and not only for the players, but the association too. To reach their first World Cup and be competitive has been a great achievement. But looking forward, not only for Fiji but for the Pacific region, coach education is vital, as well as player development. Those are the two key areas where the whole region can do better."
In helping achieve that, FIFA's support will continue long after the U-20 World Cup leaves these shores. Later this year, the world governing body's new Youth Football Development Programme will be launched, with the aim of supporting member associations to put in place competitive youth football championships. At the heart of all this work will be the goal of continued football development, in Oceania and across the world.