- OFC qualifying for FIFA U-17 World Cup commences
- Two tickets on offer for eight-nation field
- Tournament will decide first two qualifiers for Peru 2019
The FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2019 may still be over a year away, but already the first qualifiers will soon be determined. The OFC U-16 Championship takes place over the coming fortnight in the Solomon Islands, with two tickets to Peru up for grabs. The initial stage of the qualifying competition has already taken place, with Samoa topping the four-nation Polynesian-based group in July.
For the second time, two tickets are on offer for contenders in FIFA’s smallest confederation. Regulars on the world stage New Zealand featured at India 2017, as did New Caledonia, who made their debut in a global competition.
FIFA.com runs the rule over the upcoming competition, headlined by the aforementioned pair.
New Caledonia have a long and proud football history but breaking through for qualification to a FIFA competition has been a long time coming. Now having done so, the French-speaking Melanesians are intent on maintaining that momentum. Unusually for a Pacific nation, they recently travelled to Asia for an extensive camp and a three-match series against Malaysia.
“We’ve set our sights high, we want to qualify for another FIFA World Cup,” said coach Lean Waitronyie. “Since we went to the World Cup in India, we’ve been saying that preparing as best we can manage is really important.
“One of our guiding principles was to work on the spirit of the group, the cohesion. We’re also working a lot on the mental side of the game and our defence.”
New Zealand travel to Honiara as warm favourites, having won all six editions of the tournament since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation. Two years ago they routed New Caledonia with seven unanswered goals in the final, but competition in the Pacific can bring its challenges. Indeed, New Zealand needed penalties to qualify at Tahiti’s expense back in 2015.
“The talent in this age group and the experience some of them already have at high senior levels is really exciting for New Zealand moving forward,” said coach Jose Figueira, who will also lead Team Wellington at the FIFA Club World Cup later this year.
“We’re finding the majority of these players are either in, or moving towards, full-time football environments and we’ve had the odd couple of players who even got some national league experience last year, so things sit in a really positive place. It’s been a good headache to have.”
Headlining the other contenders are Tahiti, with their side no doubt boosted by the nation’s recent qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Also harbouring strong ambitions are hosts Solomon Islands, who will be seeking to follow New Caledonia’s lead and reach their maiden 11-a-side World Cup competition.
Did you know?
No Pacific islands nation has qualified for two consecutive 11-a-side FIFA tournaments. New Caledonia are aiming to become the first.
OFC U-16 Championship (9-22 September)
Lawson Tama Stadium, Honiara, Solomon Islands
Group A: New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu
Group B: Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tahiti
Winners of the two semi-finals on Wednesday 19 September will qualify for Peru 2019