Almost 18 months ago, the Kurukuru from the Solomon Islands defeated Tahiti 6-4 in the final of the 2011 OFC Futsal Championship to qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012.Less than a month out from the tournament, the team will play its first international match since then against Australia's Futsalroos, who will be joining them in Thailand.
The Kurukuru's rise as a force to be reckoned with in Oceania is thanks in part to the Australian Football Federation joining the Asian confederation in early 2006. The Socceroos had dominated previous qualification campaigns and their departure allowed the Solomon Islands to claim the last four OFC Futsal Championships to become the first Pacific Island country to qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2008.
That first appearance was an awakening for the young Solomon Islands team who were beaten in every match at Brazil 2008, including a 31-2 loss to Russia, one of the largest defeats in World Cup history.
Now, the current lack of international game time combined with no access to a full-size futsal court has left them with a steep mountain to climb in order to peak for the World Cup but with the core of the 2008 team remaining, they are a more experienced side who are looking for redemption.
OFC Futsal and Beach Soccer Development Officer Paul Toohey is travelling with the team as they prepare for the World Cup and says the month-long programme they are embarking on, which sees them play Australia, Spain and Thailand, is an opportunity for the players to get back into international futsal.
"Australia have come off a busy programme this year where they've done really well and got to the World Cup," he says.
"It would be realistic for the Solomon Islands to think that it is going to be difficult, but we know they have great quality and that they can be a threat to any team. The main thing is that they get back into it and start to build confidence."
While the Kurukuru's style has differed greatly from Australia's in the past, they are now beginning to focus more on defence and life without the ball, Toohey says.
Typically in Oceania tournaments they have the ball a lot and they can bury teams with the quality of their movement, their passing and their great individual skill. But when they come up against teams from a higher level they don't have the ball so much and they have to be very smart about how they defend.
"My feeling is that the team is a lot more aware now compared with 2008, and even last year, about the importance of being organised when they haven't got the ball. I think they'll really relish the opportunity to put that into a game, to try it and see how their defence holds up against the Australians."
The Kurukuru play Australia on Wednesday before flying to Spain where they begin a week-long training camp. They will play two matches against a pair of teams who compete in Liga 1, the country's premier futsal competition, before taking on the Spanish national squad in a friendly.
The team will then fly to Thailand where they expect to play another friendly against the Thai national team before finally playing their opening World Cup match against Russia on November 3.