New Zealand’s Futsal Whites are ready to “play with freedom” as they begin their campaign to qualify for next year’s FIFA Futsal World Cup.
Head coach Marvin Eakins says team are keen to get on the court as the OFC Futsal Nations Cup 2023 kicks off at Bruce Pullman Arena in Takanini Auckland on Sunday.
Main photo: Marvin Eakins … ‘hopefully, we’ll play with freedom’.
Eight teams will compete for the right to represent Oceania at the FIFA Futsal World Cup to be held in Uzbekistan in September 2024.
The Solomon Islands have played in the last four FIFA World Cups and are expected to be strong contenders over the next week.
But hosts New Zealand have a formidable side and beat the Solomon Islands 6-2 to win last year’s OFC Futsal Nations Cup held in Fiji. (That tournament was not a World Cup qualifier).
The Futsal Whites are coming off an impressive series win over China, and coach Marvin Eakins believes his side is well-equipped to go all the way.
“The exciting part is we’ve progressed quite a bit since then (last year’s tournament).
“So I think the guys are all just keen to get out on that court and see how we go,” Eakins said.
Eakins himself has been part of the New Zealand set-up since 2008, first as a player, then as a player-coach and now coach and the Solomon Islands have been a constant thorn in his side.
“The cool thing about that, I guess, is that not many of those players have had that experience. I think I’m the only one carrying that from the previous campaigns.
“And all these guys have got to know about winning. So I think they’re going to bring that energy, none of the baggage and hopefully play with the freedom,” Eakins said.
New Zealand is in Group A alongside Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga.
The Solomon Islands have a new look squad containing a mixture of youth and experience.
Their captain, Elliott Ragomo, (32) is a veteran of four World Cups and is confident of a strong showing over the next week.
“Well, we’ve prepared a long time for this tournament. And I think we have some very young players in the team and also some old boys, but I think we are really looking forward for this tournament and we’re excited to be here and ready to kick start,” Ragomo said.
The Solomon Islands are in Group B alongside New Caledonia, Tahiti, and Samoa.
OFC Futsal Consultant Juliano Schmeling believes New Zealand and the Solomon Islands won’t have it all their own way during the tournament.
“Definitely, I totally believe Fiji is the team that is improving. Vanuatu is also improving, and Tahiti weren’t in Fiji last year but are here and they’ll be a team who will compete.
“I believe New Caledonia will be competitive and there will be some very close matches.”
Acknowledgement: Tournament preview provided by OFC Media.
New Zealand Futsal Whites squad
Rahan Ali | 7 Caps / 10 Goals | Moreland Futsal
Mike Antamanov | 7 Caps / 0 Goals | Auckland City FC
Stephen Ashby-Peckham | 36 Caps / 12 Goals | Auckland City FC
Jordan Ditfort | 18 Caps / 9 Goals | Bloomsbury Futsal
Hamish Grey | 7 Caps / 5 Goals | Unattached
Oban Hawkins | 15 Caps / 5 Goals | Southern United
Dylan Manickum | 58 Caps / 34 Goals | Auckland City FC
Ethan Martin | 7 Caps / 6 Goals | Waikato Rapids
Adam Paulsen | 7 Caps / 3 Goals | Auckland City FC
Thomas Picken | 2 Caps / 0 Goals | Auckland City FC
Casey Sharplin | 7 Caps / 1 Goal | Waikato Rapids
Patrick Steele | 7 Caps / 0 Goals | Waikato Rapids
Art Twigg | 2 Caps / 2 Goals | Auckland City FC
Logan Wisnewski | 15 Caps / 3 Goals | Bloomsbury Futsal
Eakins has named Dylan Manickum (58 caps / 34 goals) captain of the squad for the competition.
Manickum, a mainstay of the Futsal Whites since his debut in 2010, is one cap short of equaling Eakins’ record as the highest-capped Futsal Whites player of all time with 59 caps, and is likely to become New Zealand’s most-capped player during the tournament.
OFC Futsal Nations Cup — tournament schedule
Entry to the Bruce Pulman Arena is free for all games until finals day on Saturday October 7, 2023.
New Zealand fixtures
Game to be played on Sunday October 1, 2023
New Zealand v Vanuatu
Bruce Pulman Arena, Takanini, 4pm (NZT)
Game to be played on Monday October 2, 2023
New Zealand v Fiji
Bruce Pulman Arena, Takanini, 7pm (NZT)
Game to be played on Wednesday October 4, 2023
New Zealand v Tonga
Bruce Pulman Arena, Takanini, 4pm (NZT)
Semi-finals will take place on Thursday October 5 and the finals on Saturday October 7.
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