3 Sep 2016

Sport: Cook Islands face tough start at OFC U20 Champs

1:44 pm on 3 September 2016
Cook Islands players celebrate after qualifying for the OFC Under 20 Championship.

The Cook Islands football team face a tough start at the OFC under-20 championships in Vanuatu this weekend. Photo: Oceania Football

Cook Islands coach Matt Calcott admits his side could be in for a long 90 minutes in their opening match at the Oceania Under 20 men's Football Championship.

The OFC preliminary winners have only had a few training sessions to prepare for a New Zealand team that reached the knockout rounds at last year's Under 20 World Cup.

Calcott is familiar with the Young All Whites players and coaching staff, having spent five years coaching Team Wellington in the New Zealand domestic competition.

But he admitted that they've got their work cut out for them in Luganville, Vanuatu.

" Very, very tough fixture and from my side it's really a case of getting in there and affecting my group," said Calcott. "We know it's going to be tough and yeah, to some degree, it might be damage control, but from our our side we're just looking to make a difference and that's why I've accepted the role."

The other Group B clash pits Tahiti against the Solomon Islands.

Spanish coach Pedro Mateo said the Solomons squad had been working hard on their fitness and were targeting a top two finish in their group, which would put them in the semi finals.

"I don't talk too much about New Zealand now with the players because we have a very important game with Tahiti and then trying to go game by game," said Mateo. "All the players know that we face New Zealand at one point but I want them focused on the first game right now. We wish to win Tahiti and Cook Islands and fight with New Zealand to be in the first or the second spot."

Meanwhile in Port Vila, Papua New Guinea take on New Caledonia in the Group A opener before hosts Vanuatu face Fiji in match-up of the top two finishers from the last OFC Championship in 2014.

The two finalists will represent Oceania at next year's Under 20 World Cup in Korea.