As the only unranked nation attending the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ OFC preliminary competition, Cook Islands head coach Alan Taylor says he’s happy for his squad to remain under the radar ahead of their attempt to qualify through as Oceania’s representative for the intercontinental play-off.
The Cook Islands have been drawn in Group A of the tournament in Qatar, avoiding the need to play a must-win play-off with Tonga to decide who qualified for the tournament proper, due to the Kingdom withdrawing in the wake of January’s natural disaster which devastated much of Tonga.
They’ll now open their campaign against the Solomon Islands – Oceania’s second-highest ranked side in the FIFA World Rankings behind New Zealand – before taking on Tahiti and Vanuatu.
Taylor said the pressure is off his group, with the expectation that they’ll be viewed as outsiders in all of their matches.
“It is understood we are the unranked team and that it is a big challenge no matter who we play,” Taylor said.
“The Solomons are very good and are well coached and they all come out of the Solomons and train together.
“The same can be said for Tahiti, who predominantly come from a couple of clubs and know each other very well.
“They’ve also been in France for some warm-up games. Vanuatu, history says they are very good when they are on their game too.”
Travel restrictions created by the pandemic mean a large portion of the Cook Islands squad will meet each other for the first time in Qatar, days ahead of their tournament-opener against the Solomons.
Eight members of the squad are set to travel from New Zealand, along with four from Australia and one from the United Kingdom, with even coach Taylor yet to meet many of them.
“I haven’t got to travel and see most of my players due to COVID, so I am relying on the reports I am getting back from people,” Taylor said.
“But we have some guys playing high-quality football in Australia and New Zealand.”