American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga are bidding for a place in the 2017 OFC U-17 Championship and as the results of last month’s U-20 Preliminary showed, it’s no easy run for any team.
Cook Islands have history on their side at this level having made it through qualifying to take part in the 2013 OFC U-17 Championship in Vanuatu, and the nation will be buoyant after the success of the U-20 team.
However this is a new year and a new team and coach Richard Anderson is hopeful the ground work has been laid for his side to achieve their objective.
“We’re very excited to be here for this tournament as the boys have worked hard,” Anderson says.
“For most of them it’s the first time that they’ve been out of the country, never mind playing in an international tournament, so it brings with it a great developmental opportunity for all the boys.”
Cook Islands opening opponent in Samoa will be Tonga and with the nation working hard on getting things right, developmentally, at grassroots and youth level, the Cook Islands can expect a strong challenge.
Tonga’s build-up to this event has been comprehensive and included a stop-over in New Zealand where they took on several club age-group sides. The results were mixed but coach Timote Moleni says the focus was the process rather than the scores.
He says difficult matches against experienced sides was an opportunity for Tonga’s young players to get a taste of what this week would be like, with every match providing them with valuable learning and areas to work on.
“When we look at the Cook Islands squad there’s a number of overseas-based players but that’s not a problem for us,” he explains.
“They are very competitive – all of the teams are – but so are we and I think we can challenge them.”
The evening’s proceedings will get underway with the hosts Samoa taking on neighbours American Samoa in what is guaranteed to be a tightly contested encounter between the long-time rivals.
American Samoa’s squad includes a number of players who also turned out for the national U-20 squad in Tonga just over a week ago. While those players gained essential experience at that event, it also proved disrupting to preparations for the U-17 squad.
But coach Frederick Maiava is looking at it from a positive perspective, while also drawing on his own recent knowledge to aid his charges.
Maiava was a member of the American Samoa squad which came within a match of progressing to the OFC U-17 Championship in 2013, also here in Samoa. He was also the goalkeeper when the nation made history at the 2014 OFC U-20 Championship with a 1-1 draw against Papua New Guinea securing their first-ever points at that level.
Young and untested as a national coach Maiava has a lot to prove, but he’s confident the team is ready.
“We tied with Samoa back then but we had a chance to be champions in that tournament. Now as coach my feeling is that we can win.
“It’s been a long time since we have beaten Samoa and I think it’s time. I am here to serve the players and develop the game and these players have the capacity to go on and win.”
Facing down the hosts won’t be without its challenges as the Samoan side, under the guidance of coach Desmond Faaiuaso is keen to prove itself on home soil.
Like their opponents, Samoa was also in the running to progress to Vanuatu and the OFC U-17 Championship three years ago. When the nation went on to host a group of the 2015 edition, another strong side was put forward with Faaiuaso in charge and although Samoa didn’t progress the memory of playing in front of friends and family remains a strong driving force for the team – and their coach.
“They boys and our team are ready for the first game,” Faaiuaso says.
“For a lot of the players, they’re new to this kind of competition so it’s going to be tough for them.
“It’s a good feeling for the players to go on the field and show their talent in front of their family and friends.”
Tonga vs. Cook Islands
J.S. Blatter Football Complex
Monday 4 July
Referee: Averii JACQUES (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Gareth SHEEHAN (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Bernard MUTUKERA (SOL)
Fourth Official: Mederic LACOUR (NCL)
Vital Statistics: Tonga struggled in the 2015 OFC U-17 Championship winning just one of their matches and conceding 32 goals in the process.
The Players: With a largely untested squad at international level any one of the squad could emerge as a player to watch.
Coach Quote: “We are looking forward to facing the Cook Islands team, I believe we can do a lot of things in the field of play to really challenge them.”
Tonga: 1. Alifaleti LIKIO (GK), 2. Ofa KITE, 3. Sione VAENUKU, 4. Petuli TOKOTAHA, 5. Falanisesi MAUSIA, 6. Tevita KAU, 7. Tevita SILI, 8. Kalakaua FAIVAILO, 9. Tuia FALEPAPALANGI, 10. Viliami TUKIA, 11. Fonua TALIAULI, 12. William SENITULI, 13. Opesi TUIFANGALOKA, 14. Viliami KAITAPU, 15. William NAU, 16. Pesamino TOMASI, 17. Sitaleki FISI, 18. Onglea FILO, 19. Alone FAKAVAI, 20. Tevita KAILEA (GK)
Coach: Timote MOLENI (TGA)
Vital Statistics: Cook Islands were the top side in 2013, securing two wins earning them top spot in the standings. It was a complete reversal of fortunes in 2015 however as they finished at the other end of the group.
The Players: Lee Harmon is following in the footsteps of an older brother and two sisters who have already represented Cook Islands with pride. Conroy Tiputoa and William Napa can both make strong contributions to the team.
Coach Quote: “We know Tonga will be a strong, physical side. If we aren’t on top of our game and allow ourselves to get drawn into a physical contest we will find it a much harder game for us, they will be a very formidable opponent.”
Cook Islands: 1. Manaariki PIERRE (GK), 2. Sean IONA, 3. Avi ENOKA, 4. William NAPA, 5. Grafton POTORU, 6. Andrew HERMAN, 7. Geosah GEORGE, 8. Parau ELLIS, 9. Toru MATEARIKI, 10. Conroy TIPUTOA, 11. Lee HARMON, 12. Teokotai TUPUNA, 14. Teporoa HENRY, 15. Kimiora NGAMETUA, 16. Roimata KARIKA, 17. Daryl AREAI, 18. Willynn KARIKA, 20. Finlay MUNRO (GK)
Coach: Richard ANDERSON (ENG)
Samoa vs. American Samoa
J.S. Blatter Football Complex
Monday 4 July
Referee: Amos ANIO (PNG)
Assistant Referee 1: Noah KUSUNAN (PNG)
Assistant Referee 2: Douglas METE (SOL)
Fourth Official: Robinson BANGA (VAN)
Vital Statistics: In 2013 Samoa were the third best side largely because of goal difference having secured a win, draw and loss the same as American Samoa.
The Players: Willie Sauiluma is in familiar territory having turned out for the national side in 2015 as a 14-year-old. As a player with international experience he’ll be key as his side eyes victory over American Samoa.
Coach Quote: “We want to show what we are capable of for our federation, but also our family and friends. It’s going to be tough against American Samoa but we want to do well.”
Samoa: 1. Eti FATU (GK), Kitiona NAUER, 3. Joseph MAMEA-HIND, 4. Stanley MAMEA, 5. Stanley SELEMAIA, 6. Osa SAVELIO, 7. Willie SAUILUMA, 8. Jackson NAUTU, 9. Lotial MANO, 10. Jeneum KEPU, 11. Dilo TUMUA, 12. Julius DUFFY, 13. Eichard EPA, 14. Falaniko NANUMEA, 15. Paul FELISI, 16. Jefferson FAAMATAU, 17. Jeffrey LEIATAUA, 18. Solomona LEVI, 22. AJ AMOSO (GK), 23. Talita HAFOKA (GK)
Coach: Desmond FAAIUASO (SAM)
Vital Statistics: American Samoa were unable to net a single goal during the 2014 OFC U-17 Championship in which all 11 OFC Member Associations competed.
The Players: Steven Fiso, Gabriel Taumua and Takai Pouli were among the starters at the recent OFC U-20 Championship Preliminary in T
onga and are likely to play similar roles here in Samoa where they are much closer in age to their opponents.
Coach Quote: “We came here to win. I respect our opponents but we want to win. In preparing the team I know we have the strength, the speed and the knowledge and our job as coaches is done in that respect. Now the players have to step up and do something for our country.”
American Samoa: 1. John UGAITAFA (GK), 2. Joseph CHOI, 3. Tala AUVA’A, 4. Walter PATI, 5. Mahonri LOTULELEI, 6. Bryman LEVAULA, 7. Milo TIATIA, 8. Chris FA’AMOANA, 9. Joe PURCELL, 10. Steven FISO, 11. Gabriel TAUMUA, 12. Takai POULI, 13. Michael SETTLE, 14. Masila SIUA, 15. Roy LEDOUX, 16. Jerome PALEPUA, 17. Vaha TUA, 18. Eliott LELEI, 19. Misipele MUSU, 23. Pesa TAUGAVAU (GK)
Coach: Frederick MAIAVA (ASA)