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OFC U-16 Championship - Revenge sought on skilful Solomons

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A berth at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup may already be secure but New Zealand will certainly not lack motivation when they take on the Solomon Islands tomorrow in the final of the OFC U-16 Championship.

Not only is their title as reigning champions on the line, the Kiwis will also be keen to exact some revenge against a side that comprehensively defeated them in pool play.

Jose Figueira’s charges bounced back impressively from that setback to make the semi-finals and ease past Tahiti 4-1 but he insists the job is not done.

"While everybody enjoyed the night the other day and what we’ve achieved, the following morning it was made clear that the preparations for Peru start in this final," he says.

"It’s a chance to play in a big game under pressure and for me as a coach to see which players are able to handle the sort of situations we’re going to experience next year. So there’s certainly a lot of motivation for the final, we want to finish on a high and, with it being against the local team, I think it has the potential to have a massive crowd and be a really good game of football."

After sweeping aside Vanuatu 8-0 in their opening match, New Zealand were swiftly brought back down to earth with that 5-0 loss to a Solomon Islands side that has prepared meticulously for this tournament. While anticipating another very challenging encounter, Figueira feels his players will be better equipped to deal with the skilful and athletic Melanesians.

"We’re expecting more of the same, they’re a really exciting team and have been preparing full time for the past four-and-a-half months in camp - that’s noticeable in terms of their organisation and willingness to work for each other," he says.

"We certainly learned some lessons in that game in terms of dealing with pressure and having over seven thousand fans cheering against you. These are things that we’re unfortunately not able to replicate at home but since then we’ve seen a really positive reaction from the boys and I think the semi-final performance means we certainly go into the final with no fear."

The Solomon Islands have so far been the stand-out team of the tournament, cruising through the group stages with a trio of 5-0 wins before edging out Fiji 3-1 in the semi-finals. That gave the football-mad nation its first ever qualification for a FIFA World Cup and Stanley Waita’s side will look to continue the party in front of their adoring fans at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara on Saturday.

The player to watch is clearly Raphael Le’ai, who has scored nearly half of his team’s 18 goals. The only other Solomons star to score more than once is Charles Mani with four while New Zealand have their own lethal marksman in six-goal Henry Hamilton.

With both sides offering so much going forward, their ability to deal with each other’s threats is likely to decide the match and it’s an area New Zealand have worked hard on.

"One of the key things since that group game against the Solomons has been our organisation, with the ball but especially in and around the ball and behind it to try to deny counter attacks and being ready in those transitional moments to both cover the space and try to win the ball back quickly," Figueira says.

"We’ve seen some really good outcomes in the last couple of matches and we’ll look to take that into the final. After a strong performance in the semi-final, there’s a real feeling of wanting to continue that momentum - everyone is in a really good space and looking forward to what should be a really big event," he adds.

"Hopefully, we’ll stick to our plan, come out on top and get the trophy we’ve been striving for."

Please find attached audio from an interview with New Zealand U-17 coach Jose Figueira.

Match Details

Solomon Islands vs New Zealand

OFC U-16 Championship Final

Saturday 22 September, 3pm (4pm NZT)

Lawson Tama Stadium, Honiara

Live streaming available at www.oceaniafootball.com

New Zealand: 1. Alex Paulsen (GK), 2. Max Drake, 3. Kris Naicker, 4. Adam Hillis, 5. Ryan Verney, 6. Campbell Strong (c), 7. Marko Stamenic, 8. Jackson Manuel, 9. Henry Hamilton, 10. Joseph Lee, 11. Matthew Garbett, 12. Luca Taylor (GK), 13. Finn O’Connor, 14. Oskar Van Hattum, 15. Bradley Wilson, 16. Sean Bright, 17. Nathan Lobo, 18. Benjamin Old, 19. Hayden Aish, 20. Harry Bark

Coach: Jose Figueira

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