7 Jun 2017

Sport: New-look Fiji and New Caledonia focused on the future

1:11 pm on 7 June 2017

Fiji and New Caledonia are focusing on the future going into today's FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Lautoka.

New Zealand have already sealed top spot in Group A for the OFC Stage 3 Qualifiers, after beating the Bula Boys home and away in March.

With their World Cup hopes over, Fiji and New Caledonia are using the matches in Lautoka and Noumea as a chance to blood new players and begin building for their next major campaign.

"We are preparing for the future. I have started a new process with youth and this will be a good test to give players experience," said Fiji coach Christophe Gamel.

"New Caledonia are a very good team and I'm taking it like a test. It's always an honour to represent Fiji in a World Cup qualifier and everyone - agents and clubs - look at these kinds of games to find players.

"It's a double win: exposure and international experience."

Fiji coach Christophe Gamel speaks to media following their World Cup Qualification match against New Zealand in Wellington.

Fiji coach Christophe Gamel. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Fiji recorded a draw and a win in two recent friendly matches against Solomon Islands and Christophe Gamel said Les Cagous will be another tough test for his young side.

"New Caledonia is really really a good team," he said.

"All the group is full of professional players. I know some of them because they are playing in France in Ligue 2 - they are very good players.

"I know that this task is not easy but I want to see the level of my young team and how we will perform in front of big professional players so this is the point and we still give them feedback for the future."

Roy Krishna heads the ball during their 2-0 defeat to New Zealand in Lautoka.

Fiji were beaten home and away by New Zealand. Photo: OFC Media

The average age of the New Caledonia team for the upcoming matches is just 23, with the youngest member, Shene Welepane, only 19-years-old and poised to make his first international appearance for the senior team.

The Francophones will also be without their captain Bertrand Kai, who is suspended for the matches against Fiji after a red card in their last fixture.

New Caledonia were beaten 2-0 by New Zealand in November.

New Caledonia were beaten 2-0 by New Zealand in November. Photo: OFC via Phototek

Head coach Thierry Sardo plans on using the matches to develop a stronger, more structured future national team.

"For us, as for Fiji, a new cycle is beginning with an eye on the OFC Nations Cup 2020," he said.

"We have put in place a year-long game plan which is adapted to the qualities of the New Caledonian players, and we will continue to work on this in order to have the most competitive team possible."

"Integrating young players is important for the future of the national team and they won't be on their own because they will be surrounded and advised by the managerial staff," he said.

"It's important to see how they adapt to being part of the group."

The return leg in Noumea is on Sunday.