Only the winner of the OFC Championship Preliminary tournament, which includes Tonga, Cook Islands, Samoa and American Samoa, will advance to the OFC U-20 tournament in Vanuatu.
The four teams will play each other once in a round-robin competition, with the team finishing on top after the three matches qualifying for the 21st edition of the OFC U-20 Championship in September.
Tonga will be attempting to take full advantage of playing in front of the home crowd in the opening match against Cook Islands.
The two sides have met just once before at U-20 level with the 2001 encounter ending in a 1-1 draw.
Tonga coach Tevita Moala says his squad has been in training since the beginning of this year and are fully prepared for the challenge ahead.
“Our journey was not easy, but we managed to overcome those hurdles that we faced.
“I trust my boys, and they also trust me,” Moala says.
“I am aiming to qualify for the second stage, like all other coaches and I am not alone because my boys are also looking further to the second stage.’’
Cook Islands are full of confidence that they can prevail away from home and qualify for Vanuatu, a feat coach Tuka Tisam previously managed when he saw the U-17 squad through to the 2013 OFC U-17 Championship.
A number of those players are returning with Tisam for this tournament and he believes his charges have what it takes to prevail despite the tough competition.
“Winning this competition is our ultimate goal if we are looking ahead to Vanuatu,” Tisam says.
“I am going in with confidence that our team will perform well in Tonga.”
Tisam has some element of history on his side, with his U-17 squad having secured a 7-1 victory over their Tongan opponents back in 2013. Maro Bonsu-Maro and Sunai Joseph were both goal scorers in that encounter and will no doubt be keen to add to their record against Tonga at this level.
While that record certainly lends favour to the Cook Islands cause, Tisam is far from taking an early victory for granted and expects Tonga, and all the competing sides, to put up a strong challenge.
“I’m not too sure about our opponents but I know it will be a very physical tournament which my players are aware of.”
In the other contest on the opening match day, Samoa will face neighbours American Samoa at 3pm.
Samoa haven’t made an appearance at a regional U-20 tournament since 2007, while rivals American Samoa have turned out at two of the last three championships.
The Samoans were the first team to arrive in Tonga to help familiarise themselves with the conditions and coach Paul Ualesi believes that may give them the edge in what will be a highly competitive tournament.
“It’s been very good to get to Tonga early,” Ualesi says.
“The boys enjoy the camp environment, they are getting to know each other better on and off the field.
“It’s especially important for our overseas based players,” the coach adds.
“The spirit is really high and we are growing in confidence, we believe we can qualify.”
American Samoa have travelled with a very young squad, with eight of the side eligible to play at the OFC U-17 championship in July, as well as four overseas-based players from Seattle, Arizona and Hawaii.
Despite their inexperience, the young side are hopeful of a good showing in Tonga.
“Our boys know that it is going to be difficult to advance to the second stage because we have never advanced in this format,” manager Tavita Taumua says.
American Samoa picked up their first points in this competition in 2014 when they held Papua New Guinea to a 1-1 draw.
They also held Samoa to a 2-2 draw during the U-17 preliminary in 2013 and while it was three years ago, can be confident that recent results mean a favourable result could be on the cards for the young side.
Tonga vs. Cook Islands
Loto-Tonga Soka Centre
Tuesday 21 June, 2016
Referee: Joel Hopken (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Isaac TREVIS (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Ujwaal MUDLIAR (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
The players: Captain Hemaloto Polovili is the team’s most experienced player having turned out for the senior side during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifiers back in 2015. Physically powerful as well as quick with good ball skills the Tongan playmaker will pull the strings from the midfield. He will be well complemented by Soakai Vea, a national college sprint champion who will be looking to exploit his speed on the left flank.
The vital statistics: Tonga are the only team in the tournament without an overseas-based player.
Coach quote: “In the very beginning, I always urged them to train harder so when they go on to the field they get used to the kind of play I will want. I think I managed to help them as much as I could, and I am happy to say that I also brought out more of what they are capable of.”
Squad list: 1. Mahe MALAFU (GK), 2. Kilifi VEA, 3. Sione TUIFANGALOKA, 4. Sione KITE, 5. Tevita VAKATAPU, 6. Aisea MULI, 7. Soakai VEA, 8. Sateki MATAKAIONGO, 9. Vai LUTU, 10. Hemaloto POLOVILI, 11. Anthony LIKILIKI, 12, Fisi’ihoi PALU, 13. Timeth BOGIDUA 14. Hola MALAFU, 15. Talatala PO’OI, 16. Lachman ATOA, 17. Etilei TUIONO, 18. Folauhola MESUI, 19. Tevita TUKIMAKA, 20. Semisi OTUKOLO
Coach: Tevita MOALA (TGA)
The players: Goalkeeper Keegan Inia and striker Maro Bonsu-Maro were both part of the Cook Islands U-17 side that successfully negotiated the 2013 OFC U-17 Championship Preliminary tournament in Samoa to qualify for the OFC U-17 Championship in Vanuatu three years ago. The close friends, who have grown up in New Zealand and play their club football together at Central United, will be keen to use their experience to help the U-20 team’s progression to another major OFC tournament in Vanuatu.
The vital statistics: The 17-man squad includes eight overseas-based players, with six of them playing in New Zealand, one in Australia and midfielder Bruce Bien in Germany.
Coach quote: “The boys have been preparing well and hard for this competition and I think with the added experience coming from our overseas contingent of players we can achieve the result we are aiming for. It is very important to us to do well as our national men missed out by a point to qualify for the next stage of FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying in 2015.”
Squad list: 1. Keegan INIA (GK), 2. Jarves APERAU, 3. George ELLIS, 4. Sunai JOSEPH, 5. Michael WOOD, 6. William NAPA, 7. Samuel MAOATE-COX, 8. Cahjun WILLIS, 9. Maro BONSU-MARO, 11. Thane BEAL, 12. Melbourne MATAKINO, 13. Orin RUAINE-PRATTLEY, 14. Conroy TIPUTOA, 15. Bruce BIEN, 16. Kimiora SAMUELA, 17. Kristian YOUNG, 18. Dwayne TIPUTOA
Coach: Tuka TISAM (COK)
American Samoa vs. Samoa
Loto-Tonga Soka Centre
Tuesday, 21 June, 2016
Referee: Nelson SOGO (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Jeffery SOLODIA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Phul SINGH (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
The players: Coach Sione Mau will be looking for leadership from the team’s two most experienced team members Paul Collins and Tor-Lawrence Mana’o, who both have senior international caps to their names.
The vital statistics: It’s the youngest squad in the tournament with eight players under the age of 17, including 14-year-old Gabriel Taumua and his midfield partner Masila Siua, who is the youngest player of the tournament at the age of 13.
Coach quote: “Our boys know that it is going to be difficult to advance to the second stage because we have never advanced in this format. They have worked hard and they will keep working hard in trying to get us to the next stage, so we hope for the best.”
Squad list: b> 1. Kinilau POULI (GK), Sione MOEAKI, 3. Willie MALELE, 4. Frank HUNT, 5. Paul COLLINS, 6. Michael SETTLE, 7. Tauamo FE’A, 8. Joe PURCELL, 9. Steven FISO, 10. Ferrin MANULELEUA, 11. Gabriel TAUMUA, 12. Tor-Lawrence MANA’O, 13. Takai POULI, 14. Joseph CHOI, 15. Tala AUVAA, 16. Simi MOAETEAU, 17. Aliva NAUTU, 18. Masila SIUA, 23. Hinckley TUFA (GK)
Coach: Sione MAU (TGA)
The players: Goalkeeper Faalavelave Matagi and midfielder Samuel Malo will bring senior international experience to the squad following their exploits with Samoa’s senior squad at the recent OFC Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea.
The vital statistics: Samoa’s 20-men squad is made up from players representing 11 different clubs across Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
Coach quote: “We believe we can qualify. We have been working really hard especially on the boys’ fitness level. Every team will come here motivated and they all believe that they can win, I think fitness could be the decisive factor.”
Squad list: 1. Faalavelave MATAGI (GK), 2. Peter HUNT, 3. Timothy HUNT, 4.Tauati TANOAI, 5. Maiseli MATAMU, 6. Xavier TANIELU, 7. Christopher GALE, 8. Vaa TAUALAI, 9. Samuel MALO, 10. Frank MARINER, 11. Brian SIMI, 12, Pago TUNUPOPO, 13. Esekielu LAUSSEN, 14. Joseph SELEMAIA, 15. Vaatausili VAA, 16. Timote FONI, 17. Slade OMERI, 18. Fagupo TELETOLIO, 19. Faafouina FELISE, 20. Eteuati TOMASI (GK)
Coach: Paul UALESI (SAM)