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Duo enthusiastic to help Solomon Islands qualify into first under-17 world cup

BY ROMULUS HUTA

Charles Mani and Hamilton Pao are eager to help Solomon Islands qualify into its first FIFA World Under-17 World Cup. Picture by Benz Newman

TWO members of the national under-16 soccer squad are keen on helping Solomon Islands attain a maiden qualification into the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

Meet Charles Mani from Malaita and Hamilton Pio from Western Province.

The16 year olds are two of the more than 20 players in the squad who are training under coach Stanley Waita in preparation for the OFC U-16 qualifies in Honiara come September.

Mani is very excited with the opportunity given to him by national selectors.

Mani earned selection after an outstanding performance for Malaita Province in the Youth Solomon Cup Under-19 hosted earlier this year.

Initially received a call to join the national under-19 squad, the young lad who hails from Lau/Mbaelelea Constituency had to be moved down to the under-16 side due to age factor.

“I played in the national under-19 competition this year and that’s how I got selected.

“But due to age factor, the coach had to move me down to join the national under-16 team.

“It’s their decision but I’m happy about it because I will get to play with players at my actual age group,” says the striker who also plays for Telekom S-League outfit Malaita Kingz.

“I’m very excited about this selection.

“This is an honour and an opportunity which comes with a huge responsibility.

“The competition we are training for is the qualifiers for next year’s Under-17 world cup.

“If we make it through the qualifiers and qualify into the world cup, this would come as a dream come true for me.

“I’m confident to say this as a member of the host nation team that if we play according to plan, we will qualify into the world cup,” the fifth form student at Naha High School, said.

Since teaming up with the training squad months ago, Mani admits to have learnt a lot from his coaches and other senior players.

“The trainings we went through over the past months and weeks helped me a lot. I learnt a lot from our coach. This level is very different from the level I’m used to it.

“A lot of hard trainings were put to us and we’re improving day by day.

“There are some days where I had to seek God for guidance through prayers so that he can help me excel in representing my country,” the speedy forward said.

Like Mani, Hamilton Pao is one of the players selected into the under-16 squad after impressing selectors when as the team captain, led his home provincial side to triumph in the Youth Solomon Cup Under-16 competition held in January.

During the Youth Solomon Cup, Pao was employed as a striker. But upon his selection, he finds himself playing in a new position on the right wing, as recommended by coach Stanley Waita.

“I’m privileged to have earned a place in the squad.

“I have a very big dream which I would like to see materialized.

“The under-16 championship this year in Honiara would be huge.

“There is the FIFA Under-17 world cup waiting for us. If we do well, we might see us rubbing shoulders with all of the world’s best in the world cup at our level.

“Like any footballer, the world cup is the biggest stage of all football competitions and I don’t want to miss out as well.

“But we have to take each game as they come and have to win matches in the qualifiers first,” the sixth form Beulah School student, said.

“As someone who came a long way from home in Western Province, I see my selection as a very big opportunity for me.

“It has been my aim all along that I must earn selection and it actually paid off. I’m so fortunate.

“Over the past months, the trainings we’ve been through helped us a lot.

“I’m a proud Solomon Islander and I really look forward to wearing the national colours during the Oceania qualifiers.

“We also need a lot of support inorder to get to the world cup. We cannot do it by ourselves. If the home fans rally good support behind us, we can get there,” the soft-spoken winger said.

The OFC U-16 championship will run from September 9 to 22 in Honiara.

The two top winners emerging from the competition will qualify into the next year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Peru.

Solomon Islands was drawn in Group A with New Zealand, PNG and Vanuatu.

In Pool B are Samoa, New Caledonia, Tahiti and Fiji.

The national under-16 squad will leave for Japan next Wednesday to undergo a 16-day training camp before returning to Honiara next month.

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