Oceanian contenders line up for shot at world stage
First ticket to 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup to be decided in Oceania
Winner of New Caledonia-based tournament determined on 2 November
Solomon Islands have represented Oceania at past three World Cups
Eight Oceanian contenders will compete over the coming week with the aim of becoming the first nation to join host nation Lithuania at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™. New Caledonia will play host to the OFC Futsal Nations Cup, with the sole ticket to the world stage to be determined on Saturday 2 November.
Heading the charge are Solomon Islands, who are looking to extend their successful qualification record to 12 years. The Melanesians, appropriately enough given their Brazil-inspired yellow and blue strip, have long had a strong affinity with the indoor variant of the game, as well as beach soccer.
The Solomons have not lost a match at the tournament – other than against invitational opponents – since 2004. The Kurukuru are also buoyed by a strong showing on the recent tour of Australia, losing by one-goal margins in both internationals against the hosts.
However, the confederation has put a strong focus on broad-based development programmes across the region over the past few years. The result is tournament debuts for American Samoa and Tonga, while OFC believe the tournament will see significantly heightened competition.
“It has been very encouraging to see the commitment the MAs [Member Associations] have made to the preparations of the teams for this important tournament,” said OFC Futsal Development Officer Paul Toohey. “Whoever prevails in Noumea will be a worthy champion because this Nations Cup will be a closely contested and tough tournament.”
OFC Futsal Nations Cup 2019 28 October - 2 November - Noumea, New Caledonia Group A: New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, American Samoa Group B: Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga
Heading the list of contenders seeking to end Solomon Islands’ hegemony are New Zealand. After finishing as runners-up on two previous occasions, the Kiwis are looking to qualify for their maiden Futsal World Cup and have put heightened resources into the game over recent years.
New Zealand believe they now have a good mix of youth and experience in their squad. “I’d like to say it’s the strongest squad we’ve ever been able to name and there’s also been a lot more that’s gone into this group of players than in previous years,” said New Zealand coach Marvin Eakins.
“My experience over the last few campaigns in this region has given me a pretty sound understanding of what players are around and what kind of styles of futsal are being played. But there is a bit of unknown as well because the game is always developing pretty quickly.”