Saturday 15 June 2019, 02:10

Pacific sand-dwellers make welcome return

  • OFC to contest its first Beach Soccer Championship in six years

  • Hosts Tahiti have been a powerhouse at global level in recent years

  • Winner of five-nation tournament to qualify for Paraguay 2019

While Tahiti have been bona-fide superstars across the past three editions of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, the depth of quality across Oceania has remained untested. That's all set to change with the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup making a welcome return after a six-year hiatus.

Tahiti will host the tournament having staged a hugely successful FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2013. Seeking to break Tahiti’s run of four successive appearances on the world stage are New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Tournament in brief

2019 OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup Host city: Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia Dates: 17-22 June At stake: Winner to qualify for Paraguay 2019 (21 November – 1 December) Format: Five-nation round robin with top two teams to compete in the final.

The Favourites

Despite their modest population, Tahiti have enjoyed extraordinary success at World Cup level, reaching two finals and one semi-final. The hosts of the 2013 World Cup – the only FIFA men’s tournament held in a Pacific Islands’ nation – will start as warm favourites. The Tiki Toa featured in the prestigious Intercontinental Cup in Dubai late last year, but their new look line-up returned indifferent results amid a strong field.

Tahiti will not have it all their own way with Solomon Islands set to offer strong competition. The Solomons were hugely impressive in their last showing at the 2013 World Cup when they featured as Oceania champions. Typically featuring several senior national team players in their ranks, the Bilikiki are likely to feature in the decider alongside the hosts.

The Challengers

Vanuatu appear to have the best shot of upsetting the established order. The Melanesians were three-time runners-up in the early days of the continental tournament prior to Tahiti’s rapid ascension up the pecking order.

New Caledonia finished second behind Solomon Islands in the 2013 continental tournament, albeit still some way off the pace. With a strong historical and cultural connection to football, 2019 will be an opportunity for New Caledonia to prove they also have a bright future.

Tonga are newcomers to the sand-based game and the tournament is likely to be a steep learning curve. Their very presence, however, is a success with the Tonga FA pointing to Tahiti 2013 as being a direct inspiration for developing beach soccer.

Did You Know?

  • Tahiti are the only nation to reach the semi-finals of the Beach Soccer World Cup in each of the past three editions

  • Despite Tahiti’s track record at global level, Solomon Islands have won four of the five OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cups

  • Tahiti hosted the maiden edition of the Oceania tournament in 2006 at Temae Beach on the island of Moorea (picture below)

Temae Beach, Moorea, French Polynesia - Site of the 2006 and 2009 OFC Beach Soccer Championships