This year Tonga is hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifiers and the preparations have been long and arduous.
There is not a single team who isn’t determined to take that lone berth up for grabs in Stage 2 – the OFC Nations Cup with the winner of this competition drawn in Group A alongside 2012 winners Tahiti, runners-up New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea.
While Stage 1 is short, it’s also sharp. Any errors will be punished as with just three matches per team there is no opportunity for do-overs, no second chances.
That’s something Cook Islands coach Drew Sherman has had to consider in picking his squad which has been assembled from a mix of experience and youth. A number of players are returning from the 2010 World Cup Brazil™ Qualifiers, but Sherman has also been doing the ground work to identify eligible players based in New Zealand and Australia.
A week spent in Auckland, New Zealand ahead of their departure for Tonga was much needed with 13 members of the squad currently based offshore. The team is coming together, they look sharp in possession and motivated when without possession.
Having finished bottom of the standings in Samoa in 2011 with just one point from three games there is no doubt there is national pride at stake for this campaign.
But the hosts will be no easy beat. Tonga showed their tenacity when they beat the Cook Islands 2-1 four years ago. They will
want to make a strong start this time, their opening match in 2011 went down in history as American Samoa’s first international victory, especially on home soil.
It’s a real mix of players with the oldest inclusion, Kilifi Uele, 25 years senior to the team’s youngest name Anthony Likiliki who rings in at just 15 years old. Coach Timote Moleni clearly has faith in his younger players to step up, but will need the tried and true names, Uele among them, to lead by example.
The Samoan derby will close out Match Day 1 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifiers – OFC Stage 1 and is sure to be an exciting encounter.
American Samoa had everything to play for in this same match on 26 November 2011. They needed a win and they went for it, but in doing so left themselves exposed allowing Samoa to knick a goal in the 89th minute to progress to Stage 2.
Silao Malo was the scorer on that fateful day, and he’s back and keen to get his name on the board. The young striker was named both Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner at the OFC Champions League Preliminary in 2014 showing his prowess in front of the net. With Desmond Faaiuaso also in the attacking line-up Samoa will be hard to stop.
American Samoa, much like Samoa and Cook Islands, have been on the hunt for talented footballers living outside of the territory. The side spent an extended period of time in Seattle, USA trialling and playing local sides as part of their build-up and have come ready to make further history.
Coach Larry Mana’o recently attended the FIFA Regional Youth Coaching Course in Auckland during the FIFA U-20 World Cup and is brimming with knowledge and ideas on how to secure victory.
Cook Islands v Tonga
Loto-Tonga Soka Centre
Monday 31 August, 2015
Referee: Ravitesh BEHARI (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 1: Ravinesh KUMAR (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 2: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
The players: Attacking duo Grover Harmon and Campbell Best are back – they were the only two to hit the mark four years ago and will be heavily relied on for their form this time around. Captain Mii Joseph has been joined in the squad by his younger brother, U-17 captain Sunil Joseph who rings in as the Cook Islands youngest recruit.
The vital statistics: These two sides last met in 2011 in Samoa during the previous edition of this competition. The result was 2-1 in Tonga’s favour then and while they will be keen for a repeat – Cook Islands certainly won’t be. Cook Islands finished bottom of the table four years ago with just one point and this is their first full international match since 26 November 2011.
Coach quote: “I think we’re in shape and ready for the first game. We know it’s going to be a hostile atmosphere for a start being on their home turf, from our point of view we know it’s going to be a physical battle and we need to deal with the environment and the conditions as well and we’ll have to see how we deal with that.”
Squad list: 1. Junior LUPENA (GK), 2. Grover HARMON, 3. Mii JOSEPH, 4. Tyrell BARINGER-TAHIRI, 5. Paavo MUSTONEN, 6. Sem ARUS, 7. Fuhiniu GICHIN, 8. Legend PARETA, 9. Campbell BEST, 10. Harlom SIMIONA, 11. Taylor SAGHABI, 12. Emiel BURROW, 14. Josh KARIKA, 15. Jake STUART, 16. Alex McGREGOR, 17. Sunai JOSEPH, 18. Ishak MOHAMMED, 20. Tahiri ELIKANA (GK)
Coach: Drew SHERMAN (WAL)
The players: Captain Mark Uhatahi will be key to the attack with his ability to read the play ahead of time an advantage. His brother Sione has impressed with his defensive nous with Lotoha’apai United on the regional stage and as a stalwart of Tongan national teams will certainly need his wits to keep the Cook Islands attack at bay.
The vital statistics: Kilifi Uele is the oldest player taking part in this competition, while at 15 years old Anthony Likiliki is the youngest in a squad with an average age of 25. Hemaloto Polovili and Soakai Vea have both previously attended the Wellington Phoenix Football Academy.
Coach Quote: “The boys are united as one soul. What I mean by that, is they are blended together with the spirit to compete and we are ready for our first game against Cook Islands on Monday. I don’t know much about the Cook Islands but I know they have a good team with some Kiwi and Aussie players but we are ready for that and we will give them a tough challenge.”
Squad list: 1. Heneli SAAFI (GK), 2. Sione UHATAHI, 4. Lotima TAUFOOU, 5. Folio MOEAKI, 6. Oliveti VAI, 7. Sione TEU, 8. Sipiloni SILA, 9. Lisala TUIPULOTU, 10. Kent LAVE, 11. Sione LELENGA, 12. Apolosi ATUEKAHO, 13. Mark UHATAHI, 14. Hemaloto POLOVILI, 15. Fineasi PALEI, 16. Niuvalu FIFITA, 17. Samisoni MAASI, 18. Soakai VEA, 19. Anthony LIKILIKI, 20. Lafaele MOALA, 21. Sione KITE, 22. Sinilau TAUFA (GK), 23. Samisoni MAFI, 24. Kilifi UELE
Coach: Timote MOLENI (TGA)
Samoa v American Samoa
Monday 31 August, 2015
Referee: Nelson SOGO (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Stephen SENIGA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Bertrand BRIAL (NCL)
Fourth Official: Robinson BANGA (VAN)
The players: His career has taken him as far as Tahiti to play football and this experience means Desmond Faaiuaso will be a crucial member of the squad. Mike Saofaiga possesses speed and technique that is hard to keep in check while defender Andrew Setefano will no doubt play a key role.
The vital statistics: Samoa qualified for the 2012 OFC Nations Cup after two wins and a draw saw them finish top of the table with seven points in 2011. Silao Malo was the goalscorer in their 1-0 victory over American Samoa on the final day of the previous edition of this competition. Seven members of the Samoa squad are currently based off-shore.
Coach Quote: “We’re looking forward to the game on Monday. We expect them to come hard at us because we beat them in the last World Cup Qualifiers in 2011. But we’re not taking them lightly, we respect American Samoa they’ve got a few players from America and Hawai’I and anything can happen.”
Squad list: 1. Masi TOETU (GK), 2. Henry PUPI, 3. Faitalia HAMILTON-PAMA, 4. Andrew SETEFANO, 5. Vito LALOATA, 6. Joseph DAN-TYRELL, 7. John HALL, 8. Andrew MOBBERLEY, 9. Silao MALO, 10. Desmond FAAIUASO, 11. Mike SAOFAIGA, 12. Lawrie PIO, 13. Filipo BURETA, 14. Lapalapa TONI, 15. Viliami VILIAM
U, 16. Jarrel SALE, 17. Benson HUNT, 18. Isia FEALOFAI, 19. Darren TALILAI, 20. Elvis ROEBECK, 21. Faalavelave MATAGI (GK)
Coach: Phineas YOUNG (SAM)
The players: Captain Ramin Ott is out for victory and his desire to get one over their neighbours will help drive his teammates. Goalkeeper Nicky Salapu has become an almost talismanic member of the squad and will also be essential to the side’s morale.
The vital statistics: American Samoa have only once before won a World Cup qualifying match – their 2-1 victory over Tonga four years ago.
Coach Quote: “We don’t know a lot about Samoa. They’ve got a lot of new players and we’ve got a lot of new players too. They’re always a strong side so we just have to prepare the best we can, given that they’re the reigning champions in this competition. We’ve got to be conservative, but also confident in our abilities so that’s what we’re looking at right now.”
Squad list: 1. Pita FALEVALU (GK), 2. Ne’emia KALEOPA, 3. Jordan GRANT, 4. Moe Casperpona KURESA, 5. Jason SII, 6. Kaleopa SILIGI, 7. Dylan HARDIE-JORDAN, 8. Ryan ALOALI’I MITCHELL, 9. Ramin OTT, 10. Panweichi KALEOPA, 11. Demetrius BEAUCHAMP, 12. Paul COLLINS, 13. Rawlston MASANIAI, 14. Justin MANA’O, 15. Tor-Lawrence MANA’O, 17. Uasila’a HELETA, 19. Ryan SAMUELU, 20. Raphael ROCHA, 21. Sam KOME, 23. Nicky SALAPU (GK)
Coach: Larry MANA’O (USA)