Solomon Islands football coach Felipe Vega-Arango has named a 21 man squad to contest the first of two matches against New Zealand in the final stage of Oceania World Cup qualifying but says his side will be overwhelming underdogs.
Striker Clement Baegeni and Malaitian teammates Clifton Aumae and Andrew Raragia have earned call-ups to the senior Bonitos team, while experienced midfielder James Naka has been overlooked for the first leg at the start of next month.
"I am happy with the way the players have been responding in training," said Vega-Arango, who was appointed head coach in April.
"We are working on our game plan to approach the two games and the players selected are based on our system."
Clement Baegeni took home the Golden Boot award in the Solomon Cup domestic competition and featured in the recent friendly against Vanuatu but is keen to make a start in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
"It's a dream come true for me to join the national team and I'll do my best, as I will be expected to," he said.
"I'm humbly proud now to represent the country."
The overall winner will face the fifth placed team from South America in a home and away playoff in November.
Nothing to lose
Felipe Vega-Arango admits the Solmons' surge into the final round of regional qualifying was somewhat unexpected.
The Bonitos recorded back to back wins against Papua New Guinea in June, in the Spaniard's first games in charge, which saw them top their qualifying group, ahead of Tahiti and PNG.
"A few months ago I don't think too many people were thinking that we're going to make it but it's a bonus also that the players have that because they have been working really hard," he said.
"Something really positive about playing New Zealand is that the players realise if you work hard in life most of the times things go your way.
"They are going to play a professional team, New Zealand. Everybody knows that New Zealand has been the best team in the region for many many years, I don't think anybody has beaten them in many many years."
Vega-Arango originally arrived in Honiara in March as the new technical director for the Solomon Islands Football Federation before being asked to combine both roles six weeks later.
"I have to make sure that even though I do my job as a coach and we do the right things to try to make the team competitive enough, for example after the PNG match the players were happy and celebrating and I couldn't even do it," he said.
"Because next day I had meetings with the Olympic Committee then I had to work as technical director so it's a lot of work, both of them".
While his job is full of challenges the Spaniard is enjoying his new environment.
"Technical director is really nice job everything that you do you can see the results, " he said.
"Coaching is what I actually like to do the most but it's completely different roles because (as) technical director my day is over, I go home and I can relax.
"As a head coach my day is never over - I go home and I start thinking about training, I start thinking about the players and I start thinking what else can I do".
The first leg is in Auckland on 1 September, with the return match four days later in Honiara.
The aggregate winner will advance to a two-legged playoff against the fifth placed team from South America to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Solomon Islands squad:
Philip Mango - Marist FC
Zantas Kabini - Marist FF
Desmond Tutu - Kossa
Nelson Sale - Western United
Emmanuel Poila - Solomon Warriors
Haddis Aengari - Solomon Warriors
Richard Hiromana - Marist FC
Robert Laua - Marist FC
Michael Boso - Marist FC
Andrew Raragia - Henderson Eels
Joses Nawo - Henderson Eels
Jeffrey Bule - Marist FC
Atkin Kaua - Marist FC
Gagame Feni - Solomon Warriors
Timothy Bakale - Marist FC
Micah Lea'alafa - Auckland City FC
Clifton Aumae - Henderson Eels
Jerry Donga - Solomon Warriors
Henry Fa'arodo - Marist FC
Benjamin Totori - Three Kings United
Clement Baegeni - Henderson Eels