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Anticipation peaks as MD1 looms

While teams like New Zealand and New Caledonia have traditionally struggled to make an impact at this level, the development and commitment from the nations here in Suva, Fiji has been massive over the past four years.
Each of them working to build squads that they hope will take them to Colombia and the FIFA Futsal World Cup.For Tahiti it’s been a long wait after their devastating loss to the Solomon Islands in the hugely memorable 2011 final when they were pulled back from a 4-1 lead to go down 6-4.
However the wait is nearly over as they face the four-time champions in their opener at Vodafone Arena.
“We’ve prepared well for this competition. We have to play Solomon Islands in the first match, and we’re ready,” coach Jacob Tutavae says.
“For me, it’s good because I know I will have all of my players. If we were to play them in the fourth or fifth game, it would be difficult with potential injuries and suspensions, so actually to play them in the first game we’re happy.”
The feeling is similar for incoming Solomon Islands coach Juliano Schmeling who believes no matter who the opening match was against, he would expect it to be difficult.
“I don’t think that it being a rematch of the final adds any extra pressure. I think it is more because the first game is always difficult for any team against any country, I don’t think it’s Tahiti specifically,” the Brazilian says.
“Because of the formula of the competition you have just one game against each other. It will be special in terms of the first game, and it will be tough.”
Solomon Islands and Tahiti will certainly be a much awaited match on day one, but the day’s other encounters are equally intriguing with New Caledonia taking on hosts Fiji, before Vanuatu takes on New Zealand.
New Caledonia went from bottom of the table at 2013’s OFC Futsal Championship Invitational to second only to AFC guests Malaysia in 2014. Some might contribute the leap to home court advantage but coach William Bret believes it’s hard work and a determination to improve and make an impact at international level.
“The competition starts tomorrow and I think everyone wants to get underway, we’re impatient to get started,” Bret says.
“We have a couple of players who have a lot of experience and also, this year, have a lot of younger players who are making progress every day. We have pretty good experience in the team, we’ve been working hard.”
Futsal in Fiji has undergone a very recent revival which coach Intiaz Khan says offers a new, reinvigorated element to the national team.
“Always in the past we had football players, but now we have futsal players at club level too,” he explains.
Opting for a squad that predominantly comes from a futsal-only background has had its challenges, but Khan says it’s the kind of challenges he is relishing.
“There were some strength and conditioning problems, some fitness problems so we’ve got a lot of work over time to do with the players.
“But I’m not saying we’re below the other teams, or above, but we’re up there. We are better than other teams we have fielded in previous years.”
The middle match sees Vanuatu take on New Zealand and given the Futsal Whites beat the Ni-Vanuatu by an Impressive 10-4 margin, coach Scott Gilligan has every right to be confident, but still maintains an element of caution.
“Every team is here to win. Vanuatu for me is the sleeping giant of Oceania, I’ve always said it ever since I started working in Oceania in 2009,” Gilligan says.
“I’m expecting a very quick game from them and also their counter attack is very good so we’ve got to be careful of how we turnover possession.”
Vanuatu’s build-up to Fiji 2016 has included some time spent with former Solomon Islands national coach Dickson Kadau, as well as a pair of futsal coaches from Australia.
Their assistance will surely inject something new and different into the side, while coach Louis Dominique believes preparations have been better than ever.
“We’ve mainly been working on the defence lately with the help of our coaches and they’ve taught us a lot. The preparation has been better than before so we’re looking forward to getting underway,” Dominique says.
He’s been impressed by the progress New Zealand has made under the guidance of Gilligan.
“Obviously it’s an important game for us because it’s one of the strongest teams in Oceania, but we will plan to perform and get a result that will help make the rest of the tournament good for us.”
Additional Information:
New Caledonia vs. Fiji
Vodafone Arena
Suva, Fiji
Monday 8 February 2016
Kick-off: 3pm (local)
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Referee 1: Chris SINCLAIR (NZL)
Referee 2: Philip MANA (SOL)
Third Official: Francis RONI (SOL)
Timekeeper: Love Lui MALENARAVE (VAN)
New Caledonia
Vital Statistics: New Caledonia have never managed a podium finish in the history of the OFC Futsal Championship, however they did finish second behind Malaysia in the 2014 Invitational on home soil.
The Players: Ivann Pourouroro claimed joint-Golden Ball in 2014 at the OFC Futsal Championship Invitational with some consistent and inspiring performances for the national team. He’ll be hard for Fiji to contain. Goalkeeper Ronan Euzen is an excellent communicator and provides a safe and reliable final line of defence for his teammates.
Coach Quote: “We’re ready. The competition starts tomorrow and I think everybody just wants to get underway.”
New Caledonia: 1. Ronan EUZEN (GK), 2. Mainon KAOUWI, 3. Jess POUARAIROUA, 4. Wahid BEN-AMEUR, 5. Ivann POUROURORO, 6. Maurice HAMU, 7. Ludovic BOIT, 8. Loic CAUNES, 9. Franck GELLENONCOURT, 10. Malik PAULET, 11. Christ PEI, 12. Jean Michel POADAE, 13. Jone UE, 14. Arnaud LLAMBRICH (GK)
Coach: William BRET (FRA)
Vital Statistics: Fiji have beaten New Caledonia on each of the four previous occasions they have met in this competition. The most recent meeting in 2011 saw Fiji edge New Caledonia for fifth place with an 8-6 victory.
The Players: Brothers Mira Sahib and Altaaf Sahib have experience and youth between them. Mira is a long-time member of the national team and provides a calming presence. Altaaf was a member of Fiji’s U-20 World Cup squad, but word is his real talent lies on the futsal court.
Coach Quote: “We know we are ranked sixth at the moment looking at the development but we’re not worried about that. We are here to gain experience because we’ve really just started.”
Fiji: 1. Ulaiasi TAMANISAU (GK), 2. Prashant PRASAD, 3. Praveet SINGH, 4. Mira SAHIB, 5. Shelvin CHAND, 6. Suraj CHAND, 7. Vineet NADAN, 8. Akitesh KUMAR, 9. Rodrick CHAND, 10. Dhiraj KUMAR, 11. Altaaf SAHIB, 12. Anish KUMAR, 13. Kevin SINGH, 20. Maciu TUILAU (GK)
Coach: Intiaz KHAN (FIJ)
Vanuatu vs. New Zealand
Vodafone Arena
Suva, Fiji
Monday 8 February 2016
Kick-off: 5.30pm (local)
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Referee 1: Amitesh BEHARI (FIJ)
Referee 2: Jainut DEAN (FIJ)
Third Official: Rex KAMUSU (SOL)
Timekeeper: Kamedra NAIDU (FIJ)
Vital Statistics: Vanuatu’s last meeting with New Zealand saw them downed 10-4 in Wellington. The best finish for this side in this competition was in 1996 when they claimed the runners-up honour.
The Players: Donald Avock and Ricky Tuigaloa are solid defenders but also swift on the counter-attack. An in-form Ben Hungai can be lethal.
Coach Quote: “Although we haven’t had much in the way of friendly games, we are prepared to take on New Zealand. I think they’ve improved a lot under Scott Gilligan, but we’ve been working hard so we’re keen to get underway.”
Vanuatu: 1. Serge DANIEL (GK), 2. Terry MALAPA, 3. Jacky JOHN, 4. Dudley DOMINIQUE, 5. Don MANSALE, 6. Joseph HANGHANGKON, 7. Ben HUNGAI, 8. Pakoa RAKOM, 9. Donald AVOCK, 10. Ricky TUIGALOA, 11. Morsen LUIE, 12. Jimmy MALAP (GK)
Coach: Louis DOMINIQUE (VAN)
New Zealand
Vital Statistics: New Zealand are currently sitting on a ten-match undefeated streak. In 2011 Vanuatu matched them 1-1 in normal time and it took a penalty-shootout for the Futsal Whites to claim the podium finish.
The Players: Marvin Eakins is without doubt a key member of the squad both in terms of playing and leadership qualities. Young talents Tai Barham, Stephen Ashby-Peckham and Brayden Lissington bring a refreshing, new element to the Futsal Whites game.
Coach Quote: “We’re on a bit of a roll at the moment. We’re ten games undefeated but we know coming here is going to be different. The heat is a big factor, plus every team is here to win.”
New Zealand: 1. Ata ELAYYAN (GK), 2. Luc SAKER, 3. Tai BARHAM, 4. Stephen ASHBY-PECKHAM, 5. James VAUGHAN, 6. Kareem OSMAN, 7. Marvin EAKINS, 8. Daniel BURNS, 9. Jakub SINKORA, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 11. Lucas CORDEIRO OSORIO DA SILVA, 12. Elias BILLEH (GK), 13. Miroslav MALIVUK, 14. Brayden LISSINGTON
Coach: Scott GILLIGAN (AUS)
Solomon Islands vs. Tahiti
Vodafone Arena
Suva, Fiji
Monday 8 February 2016
Kick-off: 8pm (local)
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Referee 1: Ryan SHEPHEARD (AUS)
Referee 2: Darius TURNER (AUS)
Third Official: Antony RILEY (NZL)
Timekeeper: Aten KUMAR (FIJ)
Solomon Islands
Vital Statistics: Solomon Islands share the record for most regional titles with former OFC nation Australia – both have four. They twice fielded the youngest team in a FIFA Futsal World Cup, at Brazil 2008 (18/05) and Thailand 2012 (21/11).
The Players: In this side it’s hard to pick a player not to watch. Each has unique qualities that make the Kurukuru one of the most exciting sides in the region to watch, but if you had to name one, the on-ball skill of Micah Lea’alafa is worth waiting for.
Coach Quote: “Two friendly games against Australia, and two friendly games against two local Sydney clubs definitely helped us in our preparations. But of course, if I had more time I would like to have had more games.”
Solomon Islands: 1. Anthony TALO (GK), Alvin HOU, 3. Elliot RAGOMO, 4. George STEVENSON, 5. Francis LAFAI, Robert LAUA, 7. James EGETA, 8. Jeffery BULE, 9. Micah LEA’ALAFA, 10. Samuel OSIFELO, 11. Coleman MAKAU, 12. Paul HUIA (GK), 13. Jack WETNEY, 14. Mathias SARU
Coach: Juliano SCHMELING (BRA)
Vital Statistics: Tahiti came devastatingly close to FIFA Futsal World Cup qualification in 2011 leading defending champions Solomon Islands 4-1 at one point, however their opponents came back strong to claim the win. It was the second time Tahiti lost out to the Kurukuru in a final.
The Players: Smith Tino is without doubt one of the region’s best futsal players, but brother Anderson is slowly catching up and has a wicked shot off his left.
Coach Quote: “Normally two weeks ago we had planned to go to Japan for two games but we didn’t go. I said to the players ‘don’t worry, we’ve prepared well and we can be confident’. We’ve been training for seven month every day, I think we are ready.”
Tahiti: 1. Teva DUROT (GK), 2. Bea MATANA, 3. Steeve WONG, 4. Tamanui TURIHONO, 5. Manea RATEAU, 6. Alexis TOOFA, 7. Gabriel KAVERA, 8. Utiera PUKOKI, 9. Anderson TINO, 10. Teivarii KAIHA, 11. Tane TAVE, 12. Smith TINO, 13. Heimana FAARAHIA, 14. Paul PITO (GK)
Coach: Jacob TUTAVAE (TAH)

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