The highly anticipated Pacific Games football competition will be making its sixteenth appearance at the Sol2023 Pacific Games in Honiara.
A total of 36 matches across both the men and women’s competitions will be played from Friday 17 November to Saturday 2 December 2023 in three different locations: Lawson Tama; SIFF Academy and the country’s new National Stadium, a fitting scene for the medal matches.
This year will see a total of 12 teams battling it out for supremacy in the men’s competition with the notable absence of the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games gold medallists and the region’s number one ranked team, New Zealand. The men’s competition four years ago functioned as Oceania’s Olympic qualifiers, which is not the case at Sol2023.
The 12 teams are placed in four groups with the winners of each pool going straight into the semi-finals. Pool A features Cook Islands, New Caledonia and Tonga. Pool B comprises Papua New Guinea (PNG), Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Pool C features Fiji, Northern Mariana Islands and Tahiti. Pool D comprises American Samoa, Samoa and Solomon Islands.
The women’s competition sees 10 countries placed in three pools, with the top three teams and the best second-placed team from across the groups entering the knockout phase. Pool A features American Samoa, Cook Islands, New Caledonia and PNG. Pool B comprises Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga while Pool C features Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
PNG and Tuvalu are set to kick off the men’s football competition group matches on Friday 17 November at Lawson Tama, while New Caledonia and Cook Islands will kick off the women’s fixtures at SIFF Academy later that day.
TEAMS TO WATCH
New Caledonia and Tahiti stand as the most successful nations in the men’s event with both teams having a total of 12 gold medals under their belts.
Fresh from their MSG Prime Minister’s Cup triumph in Noumea in October, host nation Solomon Islands come in as one of the tournament favorites. It would be a fairytale ending if the region’s second highest ranked team claims its country’s first ever Pacific Games gold medal on home soil and in front of their home crowd.
Led by captain Roy Krishna, the Bula Boys from Fiji will come into the tournament with a large number of youthful debutants who are expected to light up the tournament. The team did not participate in last month’s MSG Prime Minister’s Cup as they concentrated on Pacific Games preparations.
PNG comes into the women’s competition as heavy favorites and will be hoping to extend their dominance and build on the five Pacific Games gold medals they have already won.
Fiji are one of the contenders hoping to end PNG’s dominance in the region and will also be looking to take revenge for their 2-1 loss to PNG in last year’s OFC Women’s Nations Cup final.
2019 Pacific Games runners-up Samoa are also a team to watch at this year’s event and have seen enormous growth in women’s football, producing several stellar results including a third-place finish at last year’s OFC Women’s Nations Cup in Fiji.
By Timothy Inifiri Jnr, Pacific Games News Service