Sport: Oceania Futsal Champs wide-open

7:44 am on 9 February 2016

The most wide-open Oceania Futsal Championship in memory kicks off in Suva today.

Solomon Islands are four-time defending champions but have only played two international in the past two years, while New Zealand and New Caledonia were the best placed teams from the region at the past two OFC Invitiational tournaments.

The Kurukuru open their title defence against Tahiti, who finished runners-up in 2011.

New coach Juliano Schmeling admitted they're a bit underdone.

"Two friendly games against Australia, and two friendly games against two local Sydney clubs definitely helped us in our preparations. But of course, if I had more time I would like to have had more games."

New Zealand have been tipped as a chance to claim their first Oceania title but coach Scott Gilligan played his cards close to his chest.

"We're on a bit of a roll at the moment. We're ten games undefeated but we know coming here is going to be different. The heat is a big factor, plus every team is here to win."

Vanuatu coach Louis Dominique has been preparing his team for the last two months in Port Vila.

The Kurukuru are three time defending Oceania Futsal Champions.

Solomon Islands futsal side Photo: Oceania Football

He has plenty of experience to call on but said they need to start well.

"We have one or two players from 2008/09 team. Most of the players started in the 2013 Invitational in Auckland and we have only one new player - otherwise we have players that have almost an average of three competitions so far.

"It depends a lot on our first game against New Zealand. New Zealand is one of the better teams in the tournament but from what I see if we do well on our first game then hopefully we will come out with a better result in the overall competition."

The other match today is between hosts Fiji and New Caledonia.

Despite being on home soil, Fiji coach Intiaz Khan was keen to play down expectations on his players.

"We know we are ranked sixth at the moment looking at the development but we're not worried about that. We are here to gain experience because we've really just started."

The winner of the OFC Championship will qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia in September.