The 2023 OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament was won, to the surprise of nobody, by New Zealand. It ended up being quite a small-scale tournament. The French Overseas departments are not eligible for the Olympics and as such do not compete. American Samoa withdrew and Papua New Guinea was only able to play a single match (a 2-0 loss to Fiji) due to visa issues. Still, though, there were some interesting players that I had not had a chance to watch in depth before. I had already covered most of the interesting New Zealand players previously so there is more focus on players from smaller nations. Obviously, the level of play in OFC competitions is not particularly high but these nations do occasionally produce players capable of playing at a solid professional level. It’s my hope that you will read about the next Roy Krishna or Brian Kaltak on Target Scouting before they make the breakthrough.
Etonia Dogalau played as a striker for Fiji in this tournament. His physical traits make him very interesting. Or, to put it more bluntly, he’s huge! Actual height and weight listings are hard to come by for Fijian players but I would estimate he’s at least 6’3. He’s also quite quick relative to his size and demonstrated some genuine flashes of skill. All of this is quite an exciting combination on paper but there are a few things that give me pause. Despite his size, he’s really not that strong in the air. He had a lot of headed shots but these were mostly uncontested. He rarely won actual physical battles. This also meant that he was not much use at holding up the ball. But his off-the-ball movement and his height did mean he was still a dangerous presence in the box. This helped him become the top goalscorer outside of New Zealand at the tournament, despite not getting to play one of the region’s true minnows.
He was quite good on the dribble, particularly good at beating players on the turn. This combined with his speed means he can catch opposing defenders off guard. In addition to some of his other shortcomings, there is also the issue of Dogalau’s age. At 22, he’s one of the oldest players in the tournament and doesn’t have a huge amount of time to make improvements. His goal-scoring record in Fiji’s domestic league is also quite mediocre. If he were 20 I would probably be a lot more excited about him. Although Dogalau is a lot of fun to watch, I don’t think he quite has the juice to play in the A-League or a similar level. But professional opportunities in the region are about to expand with Australia planning to launch a second professional division and FIFA backing an Oceania professional league. I think Dogalau would be an interesting target for clubs in both of these leagues when they come into being.
Nabil Begg played as a right-winger in this tournament. He generally sat a little bit deeper, almost more of a right-sided midfielder. He has previously played in a central role, even as a #6, so it makes sense that he would be deployed this way. Begg’s offensive production was certainly impressive, as he assisted 5 of the 6 goals Fiji scored at the tournament. This was mainly down to Begg’s impressive crossing. He can hit the ball with a lot of power and curve. He also demonstrated good vision to pick out players making runs in the box. Begg is also a reasonably strong dribbler, beating players 1v1 fairly reliably and doing a good job of attacking space. However, he has some drawbacks that make it a little hard to know where to put him. He doesn’t really take enough shots to play as an attacking winger.
Although he is very good at picking out players with his crossing, his passing in the build-up phase was less impressive. He often gave the ball away trying to make progressive passes or failed to complete a pass behind the opposition defence. This makes me a bit leery about his future in the centre of midfield. Wing-back might be a solution, and Begg does show some defensive ability. He can certainly tackle an opponent but he is far from unbeatable 1v1. But, at 19, Begg still has a lot of time to improve and his output was still quite impressive. I don’t think he’s a slam dunk but he has a reasonable chance of making it to the A-League. The question is, can he meet his potential while still playing in Fiji? Or will he need to take some sort of intermediate step?
In many ways, George Ott is a typical New Zealand striker. He’s big, he’s strong, he has good off-the-ball movement, but he’s a bit limited technically. Ott was a consistent danger inside the box thanks to his size and his ability to evade defenders. He’s very strong in the air, always a threat from crosses. Even though Ott is not very fast, he was still able to get in behind pretty consistently by making runs off the back shoulder of defenders. But, you do have to wonder if that would translate against a higher-level of opponent. His lack of pace also really limits what he can do in the defensive phase as he doesn’t have the speed to close players down.
His first touch is also not very good. So, even though he’s strong, his ability to play as a target man is limited. That said though, once he did get the ball under control he did a pretty good job of picking out diagonal runs made by wingers. Ott has some serious limitations but he’s a menace inside the penalty area. He’s scored goals everywhere he has been, except in the A-League where he hardly got any game time at all. I think he could definitely be playing professionally somewhere (he currently plays in the semi-pro NPL Victoria). Perhaps Ireland or Finland, leagues where Kiwis have been successful in the past.
This was my second time watching Junior Rocky, having previously seen him at the OFC U-19 championships in 2022. On paper, this was a very good tournament for Rocky, with four-goal contributions in three games. For a 19-year-old in a U-23 tournament, that’s pretty good, especially for someone who wasn’t playing for New Zealand. There were certainly things to like but I still see some problems that will hold him back significantly. Firstly, the good things. Rocky is quite fast and good at getting in behind defences. Aerial ability stood out as a weakness last year but he had several headed opportunities in this tournament. He’s still not a pillar of physical strength but he was pretty decent at getting free from defenders and getting on the end of crosses that way. He had a knack for popping up in the box unmarked.
That being said, I think his off-the-ball movement sometimes lacked incisiveness. He tended to just run towards the goal in a straight line. This meant he sometimes ended up behind a defender and he rarely made a move to get out of those situations. Some cuts or quick changes of direction would go a long way to improving his game. The biggest problem for Rocky, however, is he simply cannot dribble. Any time he attempted to beat a player 1v1 he almost invariably just ran right into them. If you can’t beat the defenders on Samoa U-23 on the dribble it’s hard to see how you’ll manage at a professional level. His lack of dribbling pretty much makes it impossible to play him on the wing but his mediocre strength and off-the-ball movement don’t make him an ideal centre-forward. For these reasons, I’m still not sold on Rocky as a player with a professional future, at least not one outside the OFC region. But he’s been productive at two youth tournaments in a row, both times on a team that was never really in contention. So I wouldn’t 100% rule him out either.
Javin Wae captained the Solomon Islands and managed three goals from centre-back (though two of them were penalties). On paper, there are a lot of similarities to Brian Kaltak, the Ni-Vanuatu centre-back who made the A-League best XI in his first professional season aged 29. Wae is also a centre-back who takes set pieces and he has also made the move to New Zealand after some impressive performances in his native country. Wae is certainly much stronger technically than the average OFC centre-back. He is very happy to carry the ball out of the back and has a pretty decent passing range. His accuracy is sometimes a bit inconsistent but he is capable of picking long-range passes that progress play rapidly for his side. He can also play mid-range line-breaking passes on the ground, though it has to be emphasised his accuracy was sometimes a bit lacking.
Defensively Wae is really excellent at winning ground duels and is good at knowing when to be aggressive to win the ball. However, there are also drawbacks. He is pretty mediocre in the air and his marking is not particularly good. Etonia Dogalau in particular gave him quite a bit of trouble, with Wae struggling to deal with the size and off-the-ball movement of the big Fijian. Still, though, there are reasons to keep tabs on Wae. His team in New Zealand was relegated from the Northern League so it will be interesting to see if he finds his way back into the top tier of domestic football.
4 goal contributions in three games while playing for Samoa is no small feat (even if 3 of them were against Tonga). Greg Siamoa is a big but mobile and technically strong striker. Siamoa was given a lot of freedom to roam in Samoa’s 3-5-2. As such, he often popped up in wide and deeper areas. Siamoa shoots a lot and with power. Perhaps at a higher level, this will prove to be wasteful but against OFC goalkeepers he was deadly. He demonstrated some decent vision, able to pick out switches of play and teammates making runs in behind (not that there were many of those on offer). He was also a strong presence in the box where he used his large frame to hold off defenders and get on the end of crosses.
This meant that he got a fair number of high-danger scoring chances to go with his long-range shots. Because he played for Samoa, he did not get the ball very often. This makes it a bit hard to judge his overall potential. But he looked dangerous every time he was involved and his physical traits make him interesting. He also put in quite a lot of defensive work, aggressively closing down opposing players. He moved to Green Gully of NPL Victoria after graduating from the academy of A-League side Western United. If he can turn in strong performances there, on a more level playing field, then A-League teams should be looking to snap him up.