PREVIEW: New Zealand ready to defend OFC U-19 Men’s Championship title

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New Zealand coach Chris Greenacre says his squad is ready for the OFC U-19 Men’s Championships, despite limited time together ahead of the tournament.

“We had a minimal camp before we came here, two or three days, and then we hit the ground running,” he said, as the tournament was about to get underway in Samoa.

“We’ve had a number of players who’ve been playing competitively for quite a while, so our fitness levels are in a pretty good shape. It’s just trying to fine-tune the final details on how we want to play and how we want to play our brand of football,” he said.

Main photo: Chris Greenacre at the pre-tournament media briefing. Photo credit: OFC Media / DJ Mills Phototek.

The New Zealand team goes into action on Saturday, the second day of competition at the 24th edition of the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship, a tournament that doubles as qualification for the 2025 FIFA U-20 World Cup to be held in Chile.

Though tournament favourites New Zealand have not had extensive preparation time, with no warm-up matches, their opening game opponents New Caledonia can understand their rivals’ circumstances, having been disrupted by the continuing civil unrest back home.

“The situation of the country is very difficult, so it was very hard to unite all the players. We only had three weeks of preparation for the matches,” New Caledonia coach Pierre Wajoka said.

Coaches for the team s at the 2024 OFC U-19 Men’s Championship trophy. Photo credit: OFC Media / DJ Mills / Phototek.

Samoa will host the 24th edition of the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship – a tournament that doubles as qualification for the 2025 FIFA U-20 World Cup to be held in Chile next year.

New Zealand arrive as the defending champions having beaten Fiji in the final of the 2022 OFC U-19 Men’s Championship.

Fiji have enjoyed more than a month together in the build-up to kick off and they’ll be hoping that cohesion on the field can help steer them back to the finals and possibly lift the trophy.

“We’ve been together for four weeks; this will be our fifth week. We as a team have the pressure to perform as our previous U-19 team went to the World Cup. So, it’s a challenge for us to see that we have some level of consistency,” said Fiji coach Marika Rodu.

“For us it is important to lead the group from our side, so we start with business tomorrow,” Rodu said.

Fiji kick off the tournament against Tahiti who, despite their preparation woes, have assembled a strong team with most of their players playing their club football in France.

The other opening day fixture sees previous OFC U-19 Men’s Championship finalists Solomon Islands square off against qualifying tournament winners Vanuatu.

The OFC U-19 Men’s Championship trophy. Photo credit: OFC Media / DJ Mills / Phototek.

Hosts Samoa have assembled what coach Valerio Raccuglia is calling the strongest team they’ve had at U-19 level in his time working for the nation.OFC

“It’s fantastic to be back here, the group feels that it being a home tournament, we definitely want to perform for everyone,” he said.

“I think this is one of the best groups we have had here. They’re gelling together, seems like everyone is getting along together,” Raccuglia said.

The host nation will certainly have a tough time of it in Group B, facing defending champions New Zealand, New Caledonia, and their opponents on Saturday, 2022 quarter-finalists Papua New Guinea.

While the last few editions haven’t had a happy ending for Papua New Guinea, coach Steven Mune is excited at what his team can achieve, especially having had the chance to pick players from the youth semi-professional competition, which has been running for the last two years.

“The selection has been a bit tough but quite a number of players are involved, so I believe we are prepared for the tournament,” Mune said.

Getting off to a good start will be important for both the hosts and Papua New Guinea, who’ll both be targeting a spot in the semi-finals.

Helping Samoa will be their home crowd, which for most, if not all players, will be their first time experiencing that local support.

“Being able to play in front of your home crowd and in your homeland is an awesome experience and I can’t wait for our first game against Papua New Guinea, and then having quality teams here, it’s just so amazing to be a part of,” Samoa captain Pharrell Trainor said.

Tournament format

Group A: Fiji, Tahiti, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu

Group B: New Zealand, New Caledonia, Samoa, Papua New Guinea

The top two teams from each round-robin group go forward to semi-finals on July 15, 2024.

The final will be held on July 18, 2024.


We are grateful for the help of OFC Media in providing information for this story.


Games to be played on Friday July 5, 2024

Group A

Fiji v Tahiti
FFS Stadium, Apia, 11am (NZT)

Solomon Islands v Vanuatu
FFS Stadium, Apia, 2pm (NZT)

Games to be played on Saturday July 6, 2024

Group B

New Zealand v New Caledonia
FFS Football Stadium, Apia, Samoa, 11am (NZT)

Samoa v Papua New Guinea
FFS Stadium, Apia, 2pm (NZT)

New Zealand squad

James Bulkeley, Fleetwood United, Dubai
Lachlan Candy, Waterside Karori, New Zealand
Adama Coulibaly, Auckland FC, New Zealand
Luka Coveny, Western United, Australia
Fergus Gillion, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Bruce Izumi, Western Suburbs, New Zealand
Seth Karunaratne, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Keegan Kelly, Flatirons Rush, United States
Alby Kelly-Heald, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Tze-Xuan Loke, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Daniel Makowem, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Eamonn McCarron, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

Finn McKenlay, Auckland FC, New Zealand
Oliver Middleton, Auckland FC, New Zealand
Lewis Partridge, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Codey Phoenix, Auckland United, New Zealand
Rico Pradhan, Christchurch United, New Zealand
Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Luke Supyk, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Stipe Ukich, Auckland City, New Zealand
Nathan Walker, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Joe Wallis, Auckland City, New Zealand
Ryan Watson, Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

This story was first published on July 5, 2024.

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