Four nations, one prize: the chance to play at February’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Dubai beckons for one of Tahiti, Solomon Islands, Fiji, or Tonga.
The OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup 2023 kicks off in Papeete on Tuesday local time (Wednesday NZT) with the first of three match days before the final on Saturday August 26 at 4pm Tahiti time.
Tahiti, two times finalists at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, are the defending champions and favourites. Head Coach Teva Zaveroni says expectations are high for the ‘Tiki Toa.’ but’s he’s doing his best to keep his talented group of players grounded.
“Of course we have pressure, we have to calm down and get back to our best level because there is a big gap between here and the World Cup. But we take this event very seriously and for us it feels like a World Cup and more,” Zaveroni explained.
Something special is happening on the Tongan island group of Ha’apai. The sparsely populated group of more than 17 islands is home to fewer than 6,000 people and 500 of them play Beach Soccer.
Tonga were thumped 23-1 four years ago by Tahiti, but Head Coach Penisimani Fatafehi believes the gap has closed and he’s hopeful of an improved showing this week.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us when we face Tahiti and the Solomon Islands because they are professional players. We don’t have professional players so the experience will give us some learnings and when we get back to Tonga, we can put what we learn into practice,” he said.
The Solomon Islands have a rich history in Beach Soccer and were a dominant force in the Pacific before Tahiti’s emergence a decade ago.
Head Coach Gideon Omokirio has a youthful squad but is confident of producing a strong showing.
“For us we have had a good preparation, a lot of competitions back home and we have some hungry young players and are looking forward to doing our best,” Omokirio said.
The Solomon Islands meet Fiji in the opening match of the tournament. The Fijians are seen as the sleeping giants of OFC Beach Soccer and are making their first appearance since 2011.
Coached by Solomon Islands Futsal legend Jerry Sam, the Fijians are a team on the rise and Sam believes the foundations are being laid for the game to really take off in Fiji.
“There is now a good pathway for the future of Beach Soccer in Fiji. Most of the boys play Futsal and when you look at it, tactically, it’s almost the same as Futsal and so we will try and put a tactical aspect of the game for these boys to understand what to execute,” he said.