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Dick WhalenNASSC Tournament DirectorThe North American Sand Soccer Championships turn “Silver”
Ali TargholizadehAFC Head of Futsal and Beach Soccer DevelopmentAsia has everything required for beach soccer
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Bernd BaruttaHead of Beach Soccer at the DFBBeach soccer was at its captivating best in Warnemünde
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Gilberto CostaBrazil National CoachThe road to a perfect World Cup
Philippe MoggioCONCACAF General SecretaryBeach Soccer, a powerful platform to strengthen the game
23 Feb 2011
FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup ? OFC Qualifier kicks off with new format
Fiji, Solomon Islands and Tahiti are facing a very different scenario to qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup after the omission of Vanuatu from the OFC qualifier in Tahiti after serious climatic inconveniences prevented them flying to the hosting venue. The tournament kicks off this Wednesday 23rd at Jardin de Paofai in Papeete with three group-stage matches before the final on Saturday to determine Oceania’s sole representative for the FIFA event in Ravenna, Italy, this September.
A pre-tournament press conference was held at the venue yesterday with team managers having an opportunity to outline their plan of attack in light of the recent developments that have seen Vanuatu’s participation ruled out due to Cyclone Atu.
Henry Koto, coach of the Solomon Islands Bilikiki team, was quick to say it will still be a tough competition: “Even though Vanuatu are not coming, we have respect for the other two teams in this tournament because we know they will be well prepared,” said Koto, who played at three FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups before switching to coaching for their fourth campaign at Dubai 2009.
Solomon Islands have won each of the three previous OFC Beach Soccer Championships since the inaugural event in 2006. Captain James Naka is the most familiar face but youngsters like Robert Laua will be out to impress – the 19-year-old having already made a name for himself at his first FIFA tournament in Dubai when he scored a hat-trick against Uruguay to help the Bilikiki to a historic 7-6 victory.
Koto believes he has assembled the strongest team yet and will not be relying on the likes of just one player: “We have plenty of James Naka’s in the team. There are young players mixed in with the experienced ones and I think on the whole we are better than last year.”
Like Koto, Tahiti manager Fabrice Marchand, is unfazed about the late exclusion of Vanuatu: “It is not important what happens with the other teams; the most important thing is controlling how we prepare and perform,” says the South Korea-born coach, who has lived most of his life in Marseille, France.
“For me, our strongest challenge was always going to be the Solomon Islands so nothing has changed. We know they are the favourites and our goal is to get through to the final and then anything can happen”, added Marchand, who works closely with coach Stephen Lefoc while Naea Bennett was recently announced as the team’s new captain. The 33-year-old only just made the switch to beach soccer but has played for the national team for more than a decade, serving as captain for the past two years.
Fiji coach Intiaz Khan also has a number of 11-a-side players in his squad who have converted to the beach form of the game and are still making the adjustments. “Technically we are not at the same level as these teams. But the heart, the courage and the determination are there,” says Khan, who has also coached the national futsal side.
The Fijians were defeated by the Solomon Islands and Tahiti in their only other appearance at the championship in 2009. They bring another young squad this time around but Khan is focusing on the positives. “The advantage we have is that we are a team of unknowns. And while Solomon Islands and Tahiti may fall into relying on one or two star players, we are a squad of 12 and if we work hard together then we can be competitive.”
The winner of the tournament will go on to represent Oceania at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, set to be held in Ravenna, Italy during September.
The revised schedule is as follows:
Wednesday 23 February
Solomon Islands vs. Fiji
Thursday 24 February
Tahiti vs. Fiji
Friday 25 February
Tahiti vs. Solomon Islands
Saturday 26 February
FINAL 1st vs. 2nd
Source: Oceania Football Confederation.