The teams have arrived and the stage is set for the OFC U-17 Championship to kick off at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium on Monday with New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Vanuatu all preparing to fight for a spot at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009.
New Caledonia and Tahiti flew into Auckland today and will clash in the opening match of the round-robin tournament at 12:30pm on Monday while hosts New Zealand prepare for their 3:00pm match against Vanuatu who arrived in the country on Wednesday.
Match Day 2 on Wednesday 22 April and Match Day 3 on Friday 24 April will determine the overall winner who then goes on to represent Oceania at the FIFA finals in Nigeria scheduled to take place from 24 October to 15 November.
After settling in at Mount Albert Grammar school this week, Vanuatu Head Coach Etienne Mermer says he is pleased with his team’s preparations.
“We had the chance to play a match on Thursday and today we will train twice at the school,” says Mermer.
“It’s a bit colder here in New Zealand and the fields are different so we wanted to give our players as much time as possible to adjust to these conditions.”
Enjoying home advantage will be Steve Cain’s side which boasts promising talents such as Cameron Lindsay (Blackburn Rovers), Zane Sole (Waitakere United) and Andrew Milne (formerly Glasgow Rangers).
Cain is also happy with how preparations have gone but admits he knows little about the opposing teams.
“We’ve got no idea of what we’ll come up against. We have a vague idea of what style they might play, but that can be a dangerous trap to fall into,” says the Liverpudlian.
“You go into any tournament a bit blind so it’s a case of making sure that we’re not surprised by what we see on the pitch and have to waste valuable time trying to adjust.”
New Zealand are the current champions in this age group after they won the OFC U-17 Championship Tahiti 2007 and advanced to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007.
Tahiti, who finished second behind New Zealand in 2007, are tipped to pose the biggest threat to the home side. Head Coach and former French international Lionel Charbonnier will be hoping his U-17 side can emulate the Tahiti U-20 team who made history in December last year by winning the OFC U-20 Championship and became the first Island nation to qualiy for a FIFA field football event – the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009.