Wednesday, 5 August 2009 3:25 PM

Solomon Islands Fans Await Bilikiki Homecoming

It has been a long wait but Solomon Islands fans will finally get the chance to welcome home their Bilikiki heroes today when they arrive in Honiara with the OFC Beach Soccer Championship trophy in tow.

A huge crowd is expected for the Bilikiki team who, since their victory in Tahiti last week, have been held up in Auckland due to flight delays.

As fans anticipate the homecoming, the Solomon Island players are just as eager to get back so they can start training for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009 which is set to kick off on 16 November.

Bilikiki captain James Naka says it will be a busy 14 weeks ahead.

"We are looking forward to seeing our supporters and family at the airport and getting a few days rest but then we will be back into hard training," says Naka.

The Solomon Islands have appeared in the past three FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups but despite credible performances - including wins against Cameroon and El Salvador in 2006 and 2008 respectively - the team has never made the quarterfinals.

Despite this, Naka says he is confident of making the next stage in Dubai.

"This is the best team we've had so far. Now it's all about getting the best preparation."

Naka has featured in all three previous campaigns scoring an impressive 17 World Cup goals. With his scoring abilities likely to be called on once again in Dubai, the signs are positive after a strong showing at last week's qualifiers where he won the Golden Ball (best player) and Golden Boot (top goal scorer) for his tally of seven. His dominance is further highlighted by the fact that he has scored an incredible 29 goals in three OFC Beach Soccer Championships - 12 more than his nearest rival Teva Zaveroni from Tahiti on 17.

Henry Koto, who played in the 2006 and 2007 FIFA tournaments before turning coach in 2008, says it is a huge advantage having someone like Naka on the team.

"Naka knows how to score goals and has some special skills. But of course it takes a whole team to win a match so every player is important. I think we have the right balance this year and now we are just looking forward to competing at the World Cup," says Koto.

As OFC's representative on the world stage, the Solomon Islands will play alongside Ivory Coast and Nigeria (African qualifiers), Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Switzerland (European qualifiers), Costa Rica and El Salvador (CONCACAF qualifiers), Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay (CONMEBOL qualifiers) plus two teams from Asia (to be determined 2-6 September) as well as the United Arab Emirates who gain automatic entry as hosts.

The official draw for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup is expected to take place soon after the Asia qualifiers in September.


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