- Oceania U-19 Championship takes place in Tahiti over coming fortnight
- Two spots at Poland 2019 on offer
- New Zealand and Vanuatu impressed at Korea Republic 2017
Last month, Europe determined it’s participants for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, and now it is Oceania’s turn. The OFC U-19 Championship will take place in Tahiti over the coming fortnight, with two tickets to the world stage up for grabs.
The action commences on Sunday, and concludes 13 days later. All eyes, however, will be focused on Wednesday 15 August, when the two qualifiers for Poland 2019 will be determined.
Tahiti’s azure blue waters and balmy Pacific winds are a world away in every sense from that of central Europe, where 24 of the finest international youth teams will gather next May. But that is not to say OFC nations do not bring value to the biennial U-20 jamboree.
Oceania were granted two spots for the first time ahead of Korea Republic 2017, and that faith was duly repaid. Vanuatu played with verve and panache on their U-20 World Cup debut, pushing both Germany and Mexico to the very brink before suffering one-goal defeats, while New Zealand finished second in their group to reach the Round of 16.
Two years earlier Fiji impressed with a stunning 3-0 win over Honduras, as New Zealand welcomed the world in a memorable tournament Down Under.
Kiwis lead charge
Despite missing several key players, pre-tournament favourites New Zealand look strong on the back of some solid preparation. Ten players featured at last year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. Several squad members are based at New Zealand’s sole professional club, Wellington Phoenix, while midfielder Trevor Zwetsloot is contracted to Werder Bremen.
Tahiti are seeking to make the most of home conditions are failing to do so at the U-17 equivalent two years ago. The home team’s roster includes five players based in France. The French Polynesians will be hoping to reprise the achievements of their 2009 predecessors, who reached the world stage at New Zealand’s expense.
Not to be discounted are Papua New Guinea, where football has made great strides in the past few years. They should lack little for cohesion, with most of the squad based at the same club, Besta United. Outsiders Tonga face a tough challenge having already created a milestone achievement after winning the pre-qualifiers.
Melanesian quartet aim high
A fascinating contest looms in Group B, where all four contenders have reason for optimism. Much focus will be Vanuatu after their unexpected qualification two years ago. This time, however, there will be no home advantage and maintaining that previous momentum in a well-balanced group will be a challenge.
Solomon Islands have promised much, but narrowly failed to deliver down the years. There have been strong showings at Beach Soccer and Futsal World Cups, but qualification to an 11-a-side FIFA tournament has so far eluded them. Solomons’ icon Batram Suri is coaching the side this time around.
Also led by a local idol are New Caledonia, who have former Tahiti national team striker Felix Tagawa at the helm. Like the Solomons, New Caledonia have previously fallen only narrowly shy of qualification for the main stage. Fiji round out the group and could prove to be strong contenders, following a thorough build-up which included a strong showing on a recent tour of Australia.